To Kill A Mocking Bird at the Southampton Mayflower

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Harper Lee’s 1960 novel and the subsequent film hold pride of place in 20th century art.

It was the only book I read for O-Level, a copy of which still sits on my bookshelf. To Kill a Mockingbird shines. And with this in mind, I anticipated much joy at this theatrical adaptation.

And, interestingly, the theatrical version proves that it’s not just a question of a good story. Clearly Ms Lee’s writing and the directorial style of film director Robert Mulligan have spark and life – because this stage version does not.

Christopher Sergel’s lacklustre adaptation doesn’t help. Where an audience is more than capable of spotting nuance, Sergel’s script bangs in a Scooby-Doo line of dialogue to hammer a point home (‘Look! His left arm is withered! He couldn’t have done it’ springs to mind) and the wonderful power of Lee’s language is horribly lost somewhere in the maelstrom.

Add to that some pointless (and often mistimed, pale and muffled) multi-media gimmickry and things are not looking good.

The best performances come from the smaller characters. Cornelius Macarthy and Elexi Walker as Tom and Helen Robinson give dignified, beautiful and controlled performances. Graeme Dalling gives a wonderfully honest and comic performance, too, as Dill.

But as young Scout, Grace Rowe needs to find vocal levels to get out of the whiney rut she finds herself trapped in by the accent. And in the pivotal central role of Atticus, Duncan Preston lacks the gravitas needed to convince as Lee’s lawyer.