Timothy Ramsden previews a new production of Harper Lee's classic tale of injustice
To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee, adapted by Christopher Sergel Pitlochry Festival Theatre In repertory to October 20 Tel: 01796 484626
At the centre of Harper Lee's novel is liberal-minded lawyer Atticus Finch, who takes on the defence of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. But we see Atticus through his young daughter, Scout.
Directing Christopher Sergel's stage version, which condenses three years' action into one summer when Scout is six, John Durnin describes how Atticus has integrity and courage: "He refuses to let his conscience be governed by others. That discovery is only slowly made by his daughter.
"And there are flaws in the man. He makes mistakes, misjudgments. He underestimates the ability of others to act out of hate. And he would have preferred it if he had not had to take on a case like Tom Robinson. Yet, once involved, he goes through it with integrity."
Scout makes discoveries about her father, though without always realising their real significance. And "as the story moves to the Robinson trial, Scout is forced to deal with the fact that, no matter how eloquent and fair an advocate her father is, his word is not accepted by others. There are those who see him as a bleeding-heart liberal."
As events develop, Scout "begins to understand that black-and-white, right-or-wrong are not apt to the adult world she and her older brother, Jem, are introduced to in the course of the story. Her growth is shown as she understands shades of grey, feeling older and changed by her experiences. Scout is aware lawyers are hostile, offensive, provocative in cross-examinations."
But she cannot understand why the belittling of Tom Robinson in his cross-examination profoundly upsets her friend Dill. "She begins to look at this in a new way. Amazed, she snaps when she cannot win an argument against someone else who has a radically different view - and can explain why he does, and why she should have thought differently about the matter."
Jem "remembers and has a profound attachment to their dead mother"(Scout is too young), and resents not having the kind of father other boys have. When Tom is found guilty, Jem has to reassess his confidence that Atticus's arguments would win the day. It starts to strip the pleasant surface of Maycomb town from his eyes, revealing a darker place where racism can come with a smile.
Yet, as the emergence of Boo Radley eventually reveals to Scout and Jem, "Even characters who hold fears for LESS THAN them can be positive contributors to their world."
lA separate production runs at Salisbury Playhouse September 8-October 1 Tel: 01722 320333