Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Atticu and Scout

John Lines as Atticus Finch with Evie Cutler-Stevens as daughter, Scout

To Kill a Mockingbird

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


HARPER LEE’s chronicle of prejudice and small town life in rural Alabama became an American classic almost as soon as the ink was dry on the page.

The Pulitzer Prize winning novel has been a regular on the set text lists of at first O level, then GCSE as well as A level since it first appeared in 1960 and has lost none of its social relevance or its burning sense of injustice.

Racial prejudice has not gone away. The last recorded lynching in the USA was in 1964 while as recently as 1998 three white supremacists in Texas dragged a random black man to death behind their truck.

The story is simple. Set in 1935, small town lawyer Atticus Finch has been appointed by the judge to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of beating and raping the 19-year-old daughter of ne’er-do-well drunkard Bob Ewell – a capital offence.

Work-shy Ewell, dirt poor, with seven children, lives off county handouts, and his only contact with the truth is by accident. His evidence has more holes than a Swiss cScout olderheese while his daughter, the victim, Mayella, is struggling to even remember the pack of lies she has been told to tell by her abusive father. It seems she is neither as nimble nor as accomplished as a liar as her father.

Tom Robinson only crime, it seems, was being black, which in the eyes of many white people was all the evidence you need.

But everyone was to lose in this one. The Ewell’s might have won in court but few believed a word they said. They had made themselves town pariahs.

Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation really depends upon three strong characters to carry it, led by Atticus and John Lines, last seen in Alan Bennett’s A Chip in the Sugar, is superb as the quietly spoken lawyer, the book’s hero, showing us his integrity and sense of fair play.

Marilyn Birks as the grown up Scout, Jean Louise, Finch by the old Pecan tree outside the mysterious Radley place


Lines convinces us that this is a man who believes that justice is blind and not only are all men equal under the law, but rich, or poor, all are entitled to the protection the law affords.

Another crucial role is Scout, Finch’s daughter, played as two roles, the older Scout, Jean Louise Finch, played with a convincing air by Marilyn Birks, and the younger Scout, played this night by Evie Cutler-Stevens, a member of the Swan Youth Theatre. The younger role is shared with Hope Bradley.

Birks acts as the narrator, setting scenes, introducing characters and filling in the story between scenes while young Evie, in Year 6, is the questioning, headstrong daughter who is always looking for answers.

The other key role is Bob Ewell, played by STAC regular Chris Isaac who gives us the sort of character you instinctively want to hit in the face, preferably with a baseball bat, as soon as you meet him. A sneering, middle-aged yob who does little more in the world than take up space.

Long before the end you hate him with a vengeance. A quite magnificent performance from Isaac. The more you dislike, distrust and despise him, the greater the sense of injustice as he lies his way through the witness box. Great stuff.

There is good support from Claudia Musson as Mayella, the none-too-bright daughter whose years of schooling only just reach single figures. It is a lovely performance as one of Nature’s less gifted struggles to answer questions, frightened she will be tripped up, lashing out in anger and frustration at the oh so calm Atticus.

Then there is the accused, Tom, played by Joasha Thompson who brings a quiet dignity to the role of the poor black field worker in a nicely measured performance. He gives the resigned feeling that he knows from the start that the colour of his skin will decide this case, not the evidence.

Benjamin Sears is a suitably daring Jem, Scout’s older brother, in a role shared by Oska Wurmli, while Jonty Marsh weighs in as their friend Dill, a role shared with Harri Mathias. Dill, incidentally, was based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote.

Saada Westbury is suitably shocked and scolding as the Finch’s housekeeper Calpurnia while Sammy O’Byrne shows the required distress as Tom’s wife Helen. The two switch roles on alternate nights.

In court Alan Humphries makes a good prosecutor as Mr Gilmer – we are never sure itom in jailf he believes Tom is guilty or is doing his job, but Christopher Kingsley as Sherriff Heck Tate leaves us in no doubt where he stands. Tom was being railroaded. Even Judge Taylor, played by Robert Coppini, had grave doubts as each witness was sworn in by Daniel Brownell as the Court Clerk.

There was solid support from Paul Richards as Rev Sykes, as well as from Jenny Dowse (MaudiAtkinson), Emma Tolley (Stephanie Crawford) and Michelle Whitfield (Mrs Dubose) while Jo Clarke had the twin roles of Mr Cunningham, one of the lynch mob, and the mysterious Arthur Boo Radley, with Ben Mowbray as Boo’s older brother Nathan.

Joasha Thompson As the accused, Tom Robinson, in town jail and threatened by a lynch mob.

This is not the easiest of plays to stage, for a start the pace is no more than gentle; this is Maycomb, Alabama, where summers are hot and humid and winters not much cooler. It is the height of the great depression so work and money are scarce and in the heat nothing moves quickly.

So directors Tim Crow and Sue Hawkins have done well to keep things moving at a steady pace.

In the interval Crow had seen some areas where it could have been picked up a little in the first act, but the audience would hardly have noticed and the second act built up to its three dramatic conclusions very nicely indeed.

The second difficulty is accents, Southern drawl not being the easiest, so if accents are not always going to be authentic, or particularly American, at least let them be consistent, which thankfully they were.

Peter Read’s design, incidentally, deserved a round of applause on its own. A really superb affair of three shabby houses, all aided by Andrew Dunkley’s lighting design to give us a run-down town in everything from the noon sun to midnight gloom.

The original music for the production, incidentally, is composed by Tim Crow’s son-in-law Ashley Vickers, giving hints of jazz and work songs as well as spirituals, all quiietly setting scene and atmosphere.

When it is all brought together the result is an ambitious and hugely enjoyable performance. To 08-10-16

Roger Clarke


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