Iwas very lucky to nab a last minute ticket to see the most excellent production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A first, in a couple of ways, for me. While the existence of a theatre in the great outdoors of my second favourite park in London has always intrigued me, the reality of the great British weather and needing to book tickets well in advance had preventing me from actually seeing anything there. A friend had a spare ticket for last Wednesday’s performance and knowing my inability to say no (it’s a problem, I am working on it) she asked if I wanted it. After quickly checking the weather for rain, I agreed.
It didn’t rain, but I was woefully underdressed and absolutely froze as a result, though I was so fully absorbed n the performance, I hardly noticed any discomfort.
The Venue: The Open Air theatre is a lovely venue, there is covered dining, but all the seats and the stage itself lives up to the ‘open air’ name. The setting in the heart of Regent’s Park is wonderful and though there is a grassy area in the theatre ground for a picnic, if you are not early enough to get one of the park benches, the grass outside of the venue has probably seen better days.
There is quite a range of food available there, from a BBQ to healthy looking salads, though I cannot judge on the quality of it, a we’d armed ourselves with Waitrose’s finest. But judging by the many well dressed people drinking champagne from plastic flutes on the picnic benches, the food is probably not bad. There is also a full bar, from which I had a much needed hot chocolate.
The Play: This leads to the other first, which I am a little ashamed to admit, I have somehow not read to Kill a Mockingbird. We didn’t study it at school and I never got around to reading it later, which I regret as I wish I could have experienced it for the first time at a much younger age. As it stands, I cannot comment on the play’s strength as an adaptation, but judged on its own merits, it was fantastic.
It starts with the cast dispersed amongst the audience, standing up one by one and reading passages from the book. They all make their way to the stage, a very spare set consisting of a rather realistic looking tree with a tyre swing, and transform it into a chalk drawn map. Props and actors remain on the side until needed, with quick on stage costume changed effectively transforming narrators to various characters and back. The reading from the book continues throughout and it’s a method that really works to add depth to the performances we see on stage. The adult cast is all great, but the real stars are the kids, which are truly fantastic. The play is brought to life by the kids playing games and running around, on a few occasions, beyond the stage itself. The limited props mean that the storytelling relies heavily on the audience’s imagination to transform you to the little town in Alabama and it works. The first half is lighter than I was expecting, with a number of laugh out loud funny moments. The courtroom scenes are excellent and the attack on the children mostly shown via a passage from the book, nevertheless frightens. Really, Scout’s ham costume alone is worth seeing this for.
In a Sentence: Really fantastic play, definitely reading the book ASAP, wish I’d brought a blanket.
Can I see it? To Kill A Mockingbird has just finished its run at Regent’s Park, but it’s starting a National Tour and will be back in London next year, I couldn’t recommend it more.