The cast begin by reading from Harper Lee’s novel. Only slowly do their accents slide south. This opening scene, with the book very much at its heart, sets the tone for this reverent and faithful adaptation, first seen at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in 2013.
Timothy Sheader’s production exudes a love for and a trust in his source material. The staging is fairly simple, with the first half of Christopher Sergel’s adaptation introducing the audience to the residents of Maycomb – the neighbourhood locations are chalked on the floor in the manner of Lars von Trier’s Dogville. The second half is mostly given over to the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman: an unwinnable case.
Robert Sean Leonard plays Atticus Finch, a man of quiet intelligence and dignity with a strong moral code, struggling to do the right thing in the face of prejudice. He is noble but also humble, and while there are inevitable echoes of Gregory Peck in his performance, he makes the role his own. Good as he is, this is a piece that hangs on its child protagonists – Scout, Jem and Dill – and the young cast members, particularly Ava Potter’s Scout, acquit themselves incredibly well.
While some of the elements feel as if they might have played better in an open-air setting – a number of the performances are on the broad side and some of the accents drift – when it comes down to it, Sheader’s production knows which notes to hit and it contains some genuinely moving moments.