Thursday, 4 April 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird at the Royal Exchange Theatre

My well-worn copy complete with school notes 

One of my favourite books has got to be 'To Kill a Mockingbird' having studied it twice at school (once in the Philippines & once in the UK!) it quickly became a book to be reread a lot (and that doesn't happen too often as there are so many other books to read!). So I can't believe I almost missed out seeing it at the theatre, as I only found out it was on last week. I almost but I didn't, it required a bit of an adventure in the cold, for nearly 5 hours last Friday...

My view in the queue of St. Anns Square & the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' poster!

The production was on at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, where luckily they have some last minute, front row banquette (bench-like) seats available on the day of the performance. So being Good Friday I knew it was going to be busy so I left the house at 5.45 and the snowy climes of the High Peak to get to Manchester and join the queue for 7am.

Watching Manchester wake up to blue skies

I got to the theatre at 7.15 and I was the first person there, yay! and was greeted by a notice stating that the Box Office didn't open till 12 noon as it was a bank holiday (it normally opens at 9.30am!) so began the long wait, nearly 5 hours! in the freezing cold on a step. In a way it was lucky I didn't know it opened later as lots of other people showed up early too!I just hoped it would be worth it.....

My sis, after I finally got the tickets, yay!
 Royal Exchange Domes

The Royal Exchange is quite an unusual 'theatre in the round' as it is a modern steel, spider-like polygonal structure in a traditional hall. It has quite a bit of history, having been originally a place to trade mostly cotton & textiles in the 18th Century, to being heavily damaged in WWII, becoming a theatre in 1973 and then being heavily damaged again by an IRA bomb in 1996 and reopening in 1998 with a production of 'Hindle Wales' which was the play that should have opened the day the bomb went off. It has a knack of regenerating and always coming back to something greater: Read more of the building's fascinating history here.

 Royal Exchange: modern meets traditional inside the old hall


 There was a little free music gig on before the play started, and it was great to gather round under the beautiful blue domes and sense the sweet anticipation and excitement that comes before a performance!

Scout's bed & Miss Maudie's Bicycle

As the 'backstage' area of the theatre is mainly the public hall space, you can walk around it and beneath the stairs were some props, including Scout's bed, a bicycle that Miss Maudie rides in the play through Maycomb, Ms Dubose's wheelchair and Camellias!

'Backstage' of the theatre, you can just see Ms Dubose's wheelchair

The Courthouse floor (wooden palettes) & Ms Dubose's Camellias

The play was spectacular, the best thing I've seen at any theatre, hands down. The theatre is only small, seating about 750, and entirely in the round, so the sets & props had to be used ingeniously to keep the play flowing, this was also helped out by Maycomb's Musical Townsfolk which brought the town to life at the same time as changing scenes over with the minimal amount of disruption and aesthetic which fit perfectly, with simple sets the emphasis was entirely on the cast and story, the way it should be, this was acheived through an amazing production design department that got this so right.

Photos of the play in the theatre (Mayella, Atticus, Scout & Jem, Musical townsfolk and Dill)

Photos of the play in the theatre (Judge Taylor, Miss Maudie & Scout, Heck Tate, Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell)

The kids who played Jem, Scout & Dill were fantastic, you really thought they were 9 to 12 years old, while in real life the actors are in their early twenties! Shannon Tarbet is one to watch, for the future, she entirely was Jean Louise Finch aka Scout, the dungarees helped and accent helped of course but that youthful tomboy innocence that's all Scout aka Shannon! and Dill was so sweet and his voice so high, all thanks to James McConville.


'The Jane Austen of South Alabama'

I had to get a programme and there was a great little interview that Harper Lee did 1964. Here's a few quotes of hers that I love about writing & being a writer:

"You see, more than a simple matter of putting down words, writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they're quite different from people who must write."

"There's no substitute for the love of language, for the beauty of an English sentence. There's no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be."

"Writing is simply something you must do. It's rather like virtue in that it is its own reward. Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself. He writes not to communicate with other people, but to communicate more assuredly with himself. It's a self-exploratory operation that is endless, an exorcism of not necessarily a demon, but of his divine discontent."

Harper Lee interview

and here's a poignant truth from her most recent written appearance in 2006 in a letter to Oprah, about reading in the computer age:

"Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, ipods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it."

 The stage is set / The Courthouse

As we were on the front row, which is basically the stage itself, and the theatre's so small, we were almost part of the production, sometimes when the cast walked past you had to move your feet so they could get past!

This was especially prevalent in the Courthouse scenes as it was set up that the stage highlighted the witness and the whole of the theatre was the Courthouse. With the balcony used for where Jem, Scout & Dill, the Reverend and Tom's wife sit. Scout was dangling her feet down, just what a nine-year old would have done! 

The Court in recess  (the witness chair) & our interval / We were sat just behind Judge Taylor. (Scout, Jem & Dill were sat on the balcony)

When the jury went out, and the Court took a break, it was also interval time. It's little details like that which made the production so unique, such an experience and true to the novel. Plus it also went through the seasons, snowing and raining on stage, there was a metal mad dog played by Mayella! a great ham & carrot costume, beautiful soap dolls, a tyre swing, a mob of unruly men with fire torches and 'cars' pulling up just outside! an extremely poignant moment with Tom's death & Scout and of course Boo.... Well done and Congrats all involved, so much hard work paid off, it was amazingly wonderful!

Here's my t-shirt I made for the 50th anniversary of the book (back in 2010). And you can also get it as a print on Society. 
Time to reread the book I think and then revisit the film (oh Gregory Peck!), that should keep me going for a while!

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