To Kill a Mockingbird - Octagon Theatre, Bolton - ReviewThe Octagon Theatre in Bolton is a familiar haunt of mine, going back many, many years but it's been a while since I last had the opportunity to take in one of their productions. I had the pleasure of being invited to the press night for their brand new production, To Kill a Mockingbird, this week and decided to take my Dad along with me to check out the launch play for the Octagon's 2016-17 season.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a very familiar story for many. A feature on the GCSE syllabus for a number of years, and a modern American classic, it's part of the literary fabric of the 20th Century and has been interpreted many times on both stage and screen. The Octagon's staging marks the start of the first season under new Creative Director Elizabeth Newman, a winning start in my opinion.
The story is set in Alabama against a background of racial tension in small town America. The oppressive Summer heat is echoed in the simple, but effective set design which worked well in the Octagon's round, with a combination of red dust floor and effective lighting transporting you to Maycomb. Harper Lee's story sees the town lawyer, Atticus Finch defending a black man, Tom Robinson, against rape and assault charges, not simply against a jury but also against the closed minds of the community that both live in.
Narrative is driven by Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch, both as the young girl on the scene and an older version of herself, thirty years on, appearing on stage as both observer and narrator. This device works very well and both Scouts put in excellent performances. We saw Jasmine de Goede (the children's roles will be alternated between two actors) as the young Scout and she was ably supported by Che Tugui as her brother Jem, and Adam Crompton as their young friend Dill. The older Scout was played Barbara Drennen and her emotional and sorrowful performance is well countered by the energy and vibrancy of the young actors.
The other stand out performance for me was that of Rob Edwards as Atticus Finch. His world-weary portrayal of the lawyer who is struggling to raise two children alone sees a magical transformation when he takes to the floor of the courtroom to defend Tom Robinson and during his final summing up in the trial you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium. Three other noteworthy performances were those of Tom himself (Marc Small) in a quiet but powerful performance, Remmie Millner as Helen Robinson, and Leila Mimmack as Mayella Ewell, who manages to portray raw emotion through her body language whenever she is on stage before beginning her witness statement during the trial.
In essence the production reminded me that the tensions explored in To Kill a Mockingbird don't go away, set against a post-Brexit UK, and a Trump nomination in the US, there are still many lessons to be learned from Scout Finch and her family and friends.
To Kill a Mockingbird runs until 15th October, to book tickets and explore forthcoming shows visit octagonbolton.co.uk/.