Harper Lee’s story was penned within my lifetime, a reflection on the life of her Father, who was the inspiration for Atticus Finch. Watching the stage production in the Gielgud Theatre in London was a reminder of how much attitudes have changed since the the play was set, and, sadly, how much they have not.
It was a wonderfully thought-provoking production. The set was simple yet easily transformed to create several places for the action. The courtroom and Atticus Finch’s home were represented, but very cleverly done. Scout, Finch’s daughter, narrated the story with humour and provided a link between the theatre before the play started and the stage. The margins of both are blurred at the start of both halves of the production. That effectively engages the audience as observers of the miscarriage of justice at the heart of the story.
Sorkin’s adaptation uses subtle signals that highlight much. A jury of empty chairs cannot hear the testimony of the witnesses and cannot be swayed by legal arguments—a shocking visual segregation. Then, the threats to Tom Robinson made colder by a simple change of lighting. Some players whose only role is to be on stage, not speaking nor engaging with the action. It is their inactivity which speaks volumes to the issues of the time.
This is a long play, three hours, in two acts. Again, I think the pace is indicative of Sorkin’s ability to create an understanding of the mood through subtle signals. The time also gave the actors the ability to be considered in their delivery. Both Scout and Atticus delivered exception performances, masterful in many ways. Several times we were exposed to difficult elements relating to the racism of the time and given the context and space to see their impact. The actors allowing those moments to hang in the air in silence, letting our imagination do the work.
I loved this production, and the audience shared my opinion. A long standing ovation filled the Theatre as the cast took a well deserved bow. They then gave a moving tribute to Angela Lansbury. An extraordinary evening worth every moment.