I’m guessing it would be difficult to find someone in Auckland who hasn’t read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird in high school. The classic novel has touched many lives, including my own, so I was super excited to be heading along to The Civic to watch the Auckland Theatre Company in its opening performance last night.
Of course, there were the obvious questions—could such a powerful book have the same impact on stage and when performed by Kiwis? That southern drawl is pretty unique.
The setting was simple and sparse. Long, thin poles hung from the ceiling and autumn leaves were scattered across the ground. If it sounds dull, it was anything but—the poles allowed the imagination to create the settings. Whether it was a house, a forest, or a courtroom, they just seemed to work.
Such simplicity also requires that the performance relies upon the quality of actors—there is no fancy lighting and no music or sets to hide behind. Every word and every action counts.
Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, To Kill A Mockingbird tells the tale of Atticus Finch, played by acting veteran Simon Prast, and his fight to free a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman.
The first half of the play, written by Christopher Sergel, centres around three children, Atticus’ daughter, Scout, son Jem, and their friend Dill. The show itself has three sets of actors to take up each of the roles. Opening night saw ten-year-old Billie McKessar take on the role of Scout, and she nailed it. Her southern American accent was on point and she wholly embraced the character—likeable and feisty—throughout the entire show. I’ve got no doubt that Kiwis will be seeing her on the stage or on our screens in the future. Her supporting actors, 14-year-old Liam Farrell (Jem) and Flynn Steward (Dill) were also very good and the trio essentially held the first act together with their acting talents, while the adults came in and out of their lives.
The second half of the show moved onto the trial of Tom Robinson, brilliantly played by James Maeva. The Civic was still as the actors drew the audience into this story that confronts racism, rape and justice—or lack of. Simon Prast embraced the role of ‘the world’s best-loved lawyer’ and it is easy to see why his acting career has spanned decades. Judge Taylor, played by Ian Mune, gave the audience a few laughs while in his role of Heck Tate, Kevin Keys was excellent. Relative newcomer Holly Hudson plays the woman who accuses Tom Robinson of rape, Mayella Ewell, and does it very well. Wrought and emotional, it was easy to empathise one minute and then to dislike her the next before rolling into empathy again.
Of course we can’t talk about To Kill A Mockingbird without mentioning Boo Radley, right? Played by Peter Daube, yes, he is everything you remember. And more.
Ultimately, it was a stellar cast in a stellar show. There wasn’t a single actor who let the performance down (who knew so many people could master that accent?!) and I thought it did justice to the mighty Harper Lee’s novel, as did my date for the night, my 15-year-old son.
Put this one on your must-see list and book your tickets before you miss out. You’ll be glad you did.
What: To Kill A Mockingbird
Where: The Civic
When: May 6th—May 22nd
Tickets: Buy them here.
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