To Kill A Mocking Bird by Aaron Sorkin based on the novel by Harper Lee. Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1. 4****. Booking to 19 November 2022. William Russell

London has a new smash hit on its hands with this finely crafted play based on a novel beloved world wide, although it has to be said it does go on for a long time – some 2 hours and 50 minutes – and towards the end it starts to lose momentum as lose ends are tied up. What works best are the central scenes in the court room where Atticus Finch is defending Tom Robinson, the coloured man accused of rape. This is high class courtroom drama and Rafe Spall seizes on the role if defender Atticus with real power and delivers to a masterly performance. But the novel is also about his children and their friend, with Scout, his daughter, central to the story. Gwyneth Keyworth is very good but her deep South accent does at times become a gabble and she is hard to make out. Sorkin has also tinkered with the novel to give the coloured people more to say, particularly the character of Calpurnia the maid – handsomely played by Pamela Nomvete. This is fair enough in the context of today, but this is a story about then not now. And her behaviour to her master is pretty unlikely – he has turned her into a kind of coloured Marjorie Main who used to be the law laying down boss in the kitchen in all those movies about American families. While black voices matter Lee wrote a novel about white prejudice and white liberalism in the deep south seen through the eyes of Scout and making something unlikely to have happened occur is dubious. No matter, the first night audience adored it, laughed at the jokes – and there are some terrific scenes of cruel comedy as well as of terrifying white racism – and admired the skill with which the set designer keeps things moving from courtroom to the stoop of Atticus’s home and the surrounding countryside. Part of the problem is that Lee followed it years later with a sequel in which the adored Atticus was revealed as racist and this has complicated how people look at the original book. At the very least, however, Sorkin has come up with a cracking courtroom drama of the kind West End audiences adore.
As for some of the production details I am not all that convinced by the musicians at either side of the set – pianist on one side, guitar player on the other and the placing of the witness stand in the trial scene so that the witness has their back to the judge is bizarre although perhaps it is like that in the southern states.
The Broadway production has been the most successful play ever staged there with a succession of big name actors taking on the role of Atticus -the opening here was delayed by two years because of the pandemic – and it could just be every bit as popular here on Shaftesbury Avenue which is awash with musicals but starved of a really good play.

Atticus Finch: Rafe Spall.
Harry Attwell: Mr Cunningham.
Amanda Boxer: Mrs Henry Dubose.
Poppy Lee Friar: Mayella Ewell.
Bailiiff: John Hastings.
Mr Roscoe: Simon Hepworth.
Miss Stephanie: Laura Howard.
Link Deas: Lloyd Hutchinson.
Scout Finch: Gwyneth Keyworth.
Sheriff Tate: Tom Mannion.
Dill Harris. David Moorst.
Calpurnia: Pamela Nomvette.
Judge Taylor: Jim Norton.
Bob Ewell: Patrick O’Kane.
Tom Robinson: Jude Owusu.
Jem Finch: Harry Redding.
Horace Gilmer: David Sturzaker.
Mrs Dubose’s M

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