Theatre Calgary brings To Kill A Mockingbird to the stage

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

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A number of Canadian jurisdictions include Harper Lee’s  To Kill a Mockingbird in their high school curricula. It seems fitting that a theatre company would take on the play at some point. Theatre Calgary stepped up to the task.

The play opens to a vast stage filled with  tree foliage framing a swing in the centre. Theatre Calgary’s stage designs are always impressive, last season’s Lost was a sight to see and Much Ado About Nothing had a fully rotating stage. A grown-up Jean Louis Finch (Brooke Johnson) sets the stage, introducing the children running around, Scout (Jenise Jarrell) and Jem (Edwin Curr) and Dill (Marcus Trummer) along with the others in the neighbourhood.

The story tells of how Scout is curious about Boo Radley (Aaron Conrad), the man who lives next door and is locked in his house because rumour has it, he drove a pair of scissors into his father’s leg. We also learn about trial that will take place for Tom Robinson (Kudjo Fiakpui), the black man who is accused of raping the young white Mayella Ewell (Michaila Skye) and that it is Scout’s father, Atticus Finch (R.H Thomson) who will represent him in a case he’s sure he cannot win.

Bringing the classic to the stage has its challenges. Director Dennis Garnhum decided to cast an adult Jean Louise Finch along with the younger Scout. Jean Louis Finch serves as a narrator who gives the audience more background information. It works in the novel, as the narrative voice serves to illustrate the innocence of the young Scout, and her point of view. In the play, it is unnecessary and limiting. The audience would likely infer the details she provides and her interaction with the younger characters, playing football and swinging them around is odd if she is supposed to be a ghost character.

R.H Thomson is faultless as Atticus Finch. He is strong and portrays the steady American hero impeccably. Duval Lang as the Sheriff Heck Tate is great. Michaila Skye’s portrayal of Mayella is well done. She is a weak cowardly character who is terrified of her father, and Skye does her character justice. David Trimble also does a great job as the antagonist of Bob Ewell. The kids are cute, but it’s Trummer’s portrayal of Dill that is worth noting. His performance shines among the children.

Maybe it’s the fact that the tale of To Kill A Mockingbird is familiar that it is given a certain leniency in its portrayal. The storyline and characters are always pushing the mandate of illustrating the impacts of prejudice in all forms. From Atticus Finch’s line “you never understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around”, to a physical attack on children, to the argument about shooting mockingbirds, Lee is always making a commentary on prejudice. Always.
And an audience may look at this production and find its “earnest, if rather platitudinous wisdom,” as Kenzie Love of FFWD Magazine called it, rather tiring. But the overall lesson in this narrative has certainly not been learned in our society yet. Perhaps we don’t have a separation between ‘coloured’ and not ‘coloured’ people, but one just has to look at Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality bill to know that maybe Lee’s lessons on prejudice are still applicable today. It’s still easier by law to get married to your cousin in some states in America than it is to your partner if you are a homosexual. We are still shooting mockingbirds and Theatre Calgary just reminded us that we still have a long way to go.

To Kill A Mockingbird runs until November 3rd. Tickets can be found online.


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