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Mr Monkey sees To Kill A Mockingbird at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 20th February 2013
End date : 30th March 2013
Visit date : 25th February 2013
Atticus Finch (Nigel Cooke) defends Tom Robinson (Okezie Morro) (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey scurried through Manchester's streets for the press night of To Kill A Mockingbird at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Mr Monkey looking at the To Kill A Mockingbird poster inside the theatre
Mr Monkey collected his tickets, paused to admire the poster and settled down to read the progamme.

Loosely based on her own childhood in Alabama, Harper Lee's first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published in 1960. It was filmed in 1962, and adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel in 1988.

Scout Finch is living in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, in 1935; her father, Atticus, is a lawyer who is prepared to accept payment in vegetables from the poor farmers; this during the Depression, after all. The early scenes of the play focus on attempts by Scout, her brother and a visiting friend to make the legendary wild man Boo Radley come out of his house, but also reveal some of the tensions in the apparently placid town. A coloured field worker is accused of raping a white teenager, and Atticus defends him in court. As this is the American South in the thirties, Atticus' belief that the law should apply equally to everyone endangers his and his childrens' lives.

The stage is an empty, sandy space with post and wire fences, porches and furniture brought on as needed. Virtually every movement kicks up clouds of dust, and the whole theatre felt hotter than normal to Mr Monkey. Well co-ordinated scenery changes maintained the pace of the play and created convincing outdoor and indoor environments.

Live musicians play traditional American music on guitar, fiddle, double bass and accordion to cover scene changes and set the mood at the start of many scenes. Mr Monkey really enjoyed the music and had to be restrained from joining in with the singing.

Atticus Finch (Nigel Cooke) comforts Scout Finch (Shannon Tarbet) (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) As the events in the play are seen through the eyes of Scout, and as Scout is on stage almost all the time, it's fortunate that Sharon Tarbett is so good in the role. She is ably supported by Rupert Simonian and James McConville as Jem and Dill, the other children. All three are convincing as children, even though they obviously aren't. Nigel Cooke's strong performance shows the strength and the vulnerability of Atticus Finch, managing to be be simultaneously decisive and dithering.

The rest of the cast are excellent also in their roles as various members of the community. Mr Monkey particularly disliked Bob Ewell for his anger and meanness, but thinks that Kieron Jecchinis is probably a very nice man in real life.

Mr Monkey thinks that this is an excellent production of a powerful play and is well worth seeing. He does however warn that the play unavoidably uses racist terminology appropriate to its setting and period.

To Kill A Mockingbird runs until March 30th 2013.

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