It’s a triumph for TV star Duncan

Duncan Preston and Gemma Rowe
Duncan Preston and Gemma Rowe

IT’S been the subject for scholarly text books throughout the years and students were coming in by the busload when To Kill a Mockingbird opened at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

Harper Lee’s gripping classic remains a compelling tale to be read, seen on film with Gregory Peck in the 1962 starring role, or now in another stage incarnation.

Duncan Preston gave an acclaimed performance in The Touring Consortium’s 2007 production and here he is recreating his part as the iconic lawyer, the widower Atticus Finch, in the latest national tour.

In complete contrast to the screen idol persona of Peck, Preston’s Atticus is superficially ordinary and middle-aged but increasingly revealed as determined and even heroic as the play unfolds. It’s a superb performance and in complete contrast to his Emmerdale casting as Laurel’s dad.

The tale is told through the eyes of his 12-year-old daughter Scout Finch (Grace Rowe), when she was growing up with her brother Jem (Matthew Pattimore) in Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1935 Depression. Idyllic childhood innocence is shattered by the revelation that intolerance, prejudice and bigotry rule in their small town.

Hereabouts, it should be said that the play differs from the screenplay and the original novel in that the adult Scout, Jean Louise (Jacqueline Wood), is used as a narrator. Overall, it works well, although it can be a little distracting. Atticus is called upon to defend a black farmhand Tom Robinson (Cornelius Macarthy) accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Clare Corbett), and here Mark White gives a fine performance as her drunken father. Jem and Scout face taunts from bigoted neighbours; seemingly their only friend is an eccentric Dill (Graeme Dalling), who shares their fascination with mysterious recluse Boo Radley.

A stark clapboard set and authentic Southern accents add to the realism and if the first half had a few ‘heavy going’ moments, the end product was a compelling evening’s drama which did full justice to a masterpiece, with a cast which thoroughly earned its prolonged applause from a packed theatre.

Damian Cruden directs from Christopher Sergel’s 1970 adaptation of Lee’s novel.