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To Kill A Mockingbird at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Harper Lee's classic storybook is brought to life with fine performances from the kids and adults alike

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ONE OF THE joys of parenting is being able to share things that you love with your child and savour them anew through their eyes. As one of the best-loved books on the English GCSE curriculum, To Kill A Mockingbird by Pulitzer Prize winning author Harper Lee perfectly fits the bill as one of those classic books that everyone should read. And weep… (surely it's a veritable rite of passage to feel a righteous anger at the injustice of this poignant tale).

The Regent's Park Open Air Theatre is such a glorious venue for a night's entertainment, with its magical woodland feel and twinkling fairy lights. Shame that it was bitterly cold (don't forget your old lady blanket for your knees!) and intermittently soggy, and you couldn't help feeling sorry for the young actors playing leading little lady, Scout, her sensible big brother Jem, and the quirky visitor, Dill (apparently based on a young Truman Capote), faced with the challenge of acting without shivering with bare arms or in short trousers. I'm pretty sure the sweat stains on Atticus Finch's waistcoat were manufactured for dramatic effect.

With all cast members taking either centre-stage or loitering in the sidelines for the duration, this splendid ensemble performance is a mix of snippets from Scout's narration in the book (read in a mix of dialects from lilting Scottish to Northern Irish) with interludes of acting scenes and a haunting melodic musical accompaniment by Phil King on banjo and harmonica, all set on the minimalist stage where a tyre swings playfully on a tree and street lines are drawn by the actors in chunky chalk. The story is a faithful rendition of the book, set in the racially torn Maycomb County, Alabama, where a young negro has been wrongfully accused of raping a young girl from a crude and impoverished family Told through the innocent and sweetly naive eyes of a feisty young gal, Scout, whose father Atticus Finch – most famously portrayed by Gregory Peck who won an Oscar for his 1962 role – is assigned as the defence lawyer for Tom Robinson, this is a powerful and moving retelling of the well-loved novel. WIth impressive performances, as multiple characters, by the cast, it is Robert Sean Leonard who faces the biggest acting challenge, so familiar are many with the impeccable Peck performance. He pulls it off with a strong yet quiet presence that perfectly befits the upstanding and noble dignity with which Lee embued her reluctant hero, based on her own lawyer father. In a recent interview, Leonard admits he was daunted by the prospect of being Atticus Finch, but his father was proud.  “Every father in the world wants his son to grow up to be Atticus Finch,” he quipped, when hearing his son has landed the role.

The best and worst of human traits are portrayed in this strong morality tale, and while the racial divide is not necessarily an easy narrative for a child audience to follow, they will definitely feel a connection with the central protagonists Scout, Jem and Dill, with their peculiar take on the hypocrasy and injustices of the world. 

To Kill a Mockingbird is at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre from May 16 –15 June.

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