To Kill a Mockingbird
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 20 Feb-Sat 24 Feb
To Kill A Mocking Bird was the pretty near universal novel for teenagers at school. The film version saw Gregory Peck turned into an icon of integrity and justice. So much so, in fact, that Peck would later do his Atticus Finch in front of a Senate hearing on the subject of whether Frank Sinatra and his notorious pals were fit to be granted gaming licences, and persuade the learned panel that they were. But a production from Birmingham Rep, a company famously committed to issues of racial equality and multiculturalism, will clearly be more than a museum piece evoking a nostalgic past.
The story, for those of you who either didn’t go to high school or have a phobia about Mr Peck, focuses on the coming of age of two children, Scout and Jem, whose father, attorney Atticus finds himself defending a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. Together this social drama sees them pitted against an entire system that doesn’t see itself as racist, and so proceeds to label Atticus and his family as crazy radicals simply bent on causing trouble. The whole point about Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is that racism is invisible to those that practice it - it simply seems reasonable to the townsfolk that they should behave like a lynch mob.
Perhaps this is why it appeals to the folk at Birmingham Rep. They’ve produced a lot of work about how prejudice is a part of a mainstream system, where the media, news and our very language causes a blindness to it. That, subsequently, Lee’s 1960 novel has been condemned by some post-colonial critics as patronising to its central black character, Tom Robinson, is something that might provoke debate to this day. Whether it’s a latter day Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where white people intervene in black people’s problems to sort them out, is at best a moot point. But what is unquestionable is that this adaptation by Christopher Sergel is relevant in condemning what we don’t see as racism.