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July 2007 - Nr. 7


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KW & Beyond

  by Irena Syrokomla

Irena SyrokomlaTo Kill a Mockingbird
at Stratford Festival

Nelle Harper Lee was barely 31 years old in 1957 when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Born and raised in Alabama, she certainly knew what she was writing about. In 1961, her novel won a Pulitzer Prize and this was followed in 1962 by a film version starring Gregory Peck , who received an Academy Award for best actor in his portrayal of Atticus Finch. Many of us have seen the movie, a real classic. In 1987 Christopher Sergel adapted the novel for the stage. It has been highly successful in the United States and frequently performed by high school students. This is the first time it has appeared at Stratford.

The basic story is about the court trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman in Alabama in 1935. Atticus Finch is played at Stratford by Peter Donaldson (mature, relaxed on stage, comfortable in this role and with the audience) acting as the lawyer defending the accused. The whole small town gets involved in the trial; but in spite of practically no evidence, the black man loses and is murdered before his execution takes place.

It is a play of many layers and the Stratford production under the direction of Susan Schulman is apt at presenting them with care and grace. There is the lawyer, a thoughtful and decent man attempting to discover the truth, presenting it to the jury and asking them for a fair decision. There is a young black man taking pity on a miserable young white woman mistreated by her father and struggling to hold life together for her siblings. And a young woman daring to cross the interracial boundaries to see how it could be if … and the father who is lonely, bigoted and mistreating his daughter. There are young growing children (Abigail Winter-Culliford in the role of Scout is spectacular and a talent worth watching!) observing the events and residents of the town attempting to understand the goings-on.. And then the marginal but symbolic recluse, Boo Radley, who is scorned by the townspeople, but takes the justice into his own hands. The action keeps shifting from Atticus Finch, to the court case and the trial, to the children, to other residents, be it a disabled neighbour in a wheelchair or the mob ready for a lynching. The stage design by Charlotte Dean in browns and mauves, semi-transparent walls and movable fences adds to the layering image. The bottle tree in the background and the spirituals sung by the group of blacks bring the atmosphere of the West African traditions into the Alabama of the 30’s.

This is a very careful production letting the audience to see and understand more than appears on the surface or at first glance. So much has changed in the last 80 years in Alabama and in the world in general, the issues have changed – or have they really?

To Kill a Mockingbird is running till October 27 – so there is lots of time to call Stratford box office at 1-800-567-1600 or order you tickets on line at


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