To Kill a Mockingbird
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Gielgud Theatre, London
Cast: Matthew Modine, Cecilia Noble, Cheryl Burniston, Anna Munden, Jude Owusu, Colin R Campbell, Ellis Howard, Sam Mitchell, Jason Hughes, Harry Attwell, Helen Belbin, Niall Buggy and Rebecca Hayes

Set in Maycomb, Alabama in 1934, To Kill a Mockingbird has provided American literature with some of its most indelible characters: lawyer Atticus Finch, the tragically wronged Tom Robinson, Atticus’ daughter Scout, her brother Jem, their housekeeper and caretaker Calpurnia and the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley. For the past six decades and for every generation, this story, its characters and portrait of small-town America have helped to, and continue to, inspire conversation and change.

I think I may be one of the very few people who didn't study To Kill a Mockingbird at school. And despite typically reading over 100 books a year, I am also yet to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Because of this, I went into the play practically blind. I knew of the characters and that the story was heavily based around racism, but that was all the limited knowledge I had.

Before I start this review, it's worth mentioning that this play contains a range of potential triggers. While most of them are listed online and in the theatre, I thought I'd list them here too, in case you'd like a warning. Due to the plot, obvious themes are racism and sexual violence. As well as that, there's gunfire, talk of suicide, self-harm and themes of child neglect.

The story is set in 1930's Alabama and follows Atticus Finch, a white male lawyer. Atticus is currently in court for a rape trial, for which his client has been accused of. His client is a black man, Tom Robinson, and he has been falsely accused. As the play continues, the audience learns more about the false accusation and the moments before and after the event.

While the role of Atticus has been played by some huge names since it opened in March 2022, in London (Rafe Spall and Richard Coyle), I was most excited to see the newly cast, Matthew Modine (Stranger Things). Modine is utterly fantastic in this role. He's likeable, full of wit, but most importantly, full of compassion. There are several moments throughout the play where Atticus questions his morals and beliefs, and Modine portrays these moments perfectly.

Jem Finch (Mitchell), Dill (Howard) and Scout (Munden) talk to the audience frequently throughout the play; sharing their version of events and giving us more detail on what's happened. I, personally, loved this take on the play. However, I understand why this wouldn't be for everyone.

The courtroom scenes are intense, and become very difficult to watch at times. Tom (Owusu) brings a gentle kindness to the role, which makes the play all the more heart-wrenching. If Tom brings gentle kindness, Bob Ewell (Hughes) brings hardened anger. He shows the harrowing realities of racism, and how fear of the unknown and inadequate education spreads like wildfire. 

The sets are a sight to behold. The transformation from the courtroom scenes to the porch scenes are seamless, and transport you immediately. While the stage appears quite small, they utilize the space well, throughout.

One aspect I did struggle with was actors coming in and out of their American accents. While it didn't happen often, it did detract from the story and became quite distracting during key moments. It goes without saying that this was not a problem for American, Matthew Modine.

As a whole, I adored this play and while it was tough to watch, it still feels so relevant; even in today's society. Modine and Owusu shine brightly throughout, and I'd highly recommend a visit before it's due to close in April. 

You can book tickets to see To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre, here.

**photography by Marc Brenner**

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