Confronting prejudice

15th October 2004 at 01:00
To Kill a Mocking Bird October 15 to November 6 at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Tel: 01782 717962 (box office).

For educational information contact Rachel Billington Tel: 01782 717954 ext 356 Email: rbillington@newvictheatre.org.uk

A tale of race and relationships in 1930s Alabama is still relevant today, as Aleks Sierz reports

Harper Lee's award-winning 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a sleepy town in rural Alabama during the racially segregated 1930s. Seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl, Scout, the story shows what happens when her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, decides to defend a young black man who has been accused of raping a white woman.

Director Chris Monks says: "Today, the issue of racism has not gone away - in this area we have people standing for the British National Party, and when we recently staged East Is East, some of the Asian kids in the cast couldn't go for a drink without being hassled by yobs. These are good reasons for doing a play which confronts prejudice."

This version is adapted by Christopher Sergel, who compresses the three years of the book into six months. "Atticus Finch is a liberal eccentric," says Chris Monks. He treats Scout as an equal, but although he helps her understand morality, she also looks after him, saying, "He couldn't get through a single day without me."

This "exemplary relationship between father and daughter is at the heart of the play. You also have to remember that Atticus is a single parent and therefore has all the problems of bringing up a young girl by himself.

Calpurnia, the black cook, is Scout's surrogate mother."

The book's message is "that society is corrupt and crumbling, and if you treat people like dogs, then you can't expect them not to behave like animals. The potential of this society to be better is shown as depending on the people who make up society, not on outside legislation. It's got to come from within."

Chris Monks hopes that young people seeing the play will "get a feeling for another time and another place, and another way of thinking about the relationships between races and between classes. Nowadays, being black is very cool for young people, but I hope that they will be able to understand that things have changed since the 1930s, and can change again."

He warns against complacency: "The issues that come up in the play also come up in the playground. I also hope to encourage more people to read the book."

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