It is an interesting challenge to replicate the humid, heady and danger-charged atmosphere of the deep south of America to a mild Bolton in early September but this production only takes minutes to draw you right in.
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird has long been considered a portrait of the conflicts of the depression era and tells the tale of Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their widowed father Atticus, a prominent lawyer but quiet and steely advocate for equal rights living in a racist white community in the fictional town of Maycomb in Alabama.
The scene is set for the story as the audience filed in.
With chirping birds and crickets, the lights and sandy floors of the simple set evoke the heat and ambience of a plantation town quickly and effectively.
Told in the round to a sold-out audience, this is the Octagon in its element, drawing all the advantages of the layout to full effect.
The story is told within the audience not in front of it, actors often simply sitting on steps throughout a scene and the whole cast are utilised to move sets, giving the impression of a constantly moving visual feast.
This is a small cast, all giving powerful and emotive performances under Elizabeth Newman’s direction, wonderfully portraying Harper Lee’s tale of children growing up and starting to interpret the actions, decisions and poignancies of life around them.
As much a portrayal of loss of innocence as of racial tension and through the eyes of a young and older Scout, you will be hard drawn not to laugh and cry as the drama unfolds in front of you, smiling alongside the direct observations of children growing up a little too fast for their dad’s liking.
There is no doubt that it is a simply stellar performance from young Scout – Jasmine De Goede.
It is hard to fathom a performance as nuanced as this one from such a young performer, but she has remarkable presence and nails the spirit of Scout, naive yet knowing and single-mindedly determined.
Adam Crompton as Dill and Che Tugui as Jem also wow, these youngsters are perfectly cast together, their friendships and conflicts entirely believable.
Once you have suspended reality and accepted the southern American accents in Bolton, you are right there with the whole cast.
Each gives their all.
Rob Edwards is simply perfect as the gruff yet all-seeing Atticus Finch, taking on the established racist white order yet without them really knowing it.
This is a clever performance which showcases the sensitivities of the era as he cleverly sidesteps his daughter’s questions and tiptoes through the game-playing of the courtroom.
Harry Long is also fantastic as greasy-haired, uneducated and nasty Bob Ewell, while Leila Mimmack gives a powerful standout performance as his abused and despairing eldest daughter Mayella caught in a web of lies.
Beaten and cowed, she shakes as she feel the agony of a teenager raped and abused by her own father, yet faithful to him until the last. I challenge you not to be moved by Leila’s performance.
Former Coronation Street star Vicky Binns is a long way – but yet not that far -from a cobbles character as the subtle meaningful Maudie Atkinson, the neighbour and one friend that Scout, Jem and Atticus can rely on.
She demonstrates powerful acting chops here.
I could single out many more but this is a must-see performance.
The tears running down the face of ‘older Scout’, the magnificent Barbara Drennan as narrator Jean Louise Finch, are real and her emotions reflect those from a stirred and appreciative audience.
To Kill a Mockingbird is playing until Saturday October 15.
This first appeared in titles including Lancashire Evening Post HERE