THE opening scene set the tone for this stunningly good production of Harper Lee’s classic.
Shannon Tarbet, brilliant in the lead role of Scout Finch, starts reading the novel centre stage in a normal English accent, before her voice slowly changes into a girl from the deep south of America. A banjo, guitar and double bass player walk on, followed by cast members galore as the stage became a frenzy of action. It is visually thrilling and the pace doesn’t let up until the end.
It is the kind of play where it is impossible to switch off for even the briefest of moments - there is always something going on.
With a novel that has sold 30m copies since it was published in 1960, been made into a film that won three Oscars, and been performed on stage on countless occasions, it must be difficult to do that, to make it feel new and vibrant.
But here director Max Webster manages it with aplomb, making the most of every inch of the Exchange’s in-the-round theatre despite using the most simple of props - a woodchip floor, wooden crates and a couple of desks and chairs.
Even the manner in which the play goes into the interval is neatly done - the judge in court announcing a 20-minute recess. There isn’t a weak link among the cast, with Nigel Cooke pulling off the key role of Atticus Finch (the white lawyer who defends a negro accused of rape) in an understated yet powerful way.
Musical interludes help capture the feel of 1930s America and the raucous ovation from the audience at the end to all involved was richly deserved.
With a book as good as To Kill As Mockingbird you’d have to go some to muck a stage version up. But to produce something as splendid as this really takes some doing. It is terrific stuff and most definitely worth seeing.
It runs to March 30.