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Posts Tagged ‘Pamela Nomvete’

Who’d have thought a stage adaptation of a 1960 novel could seem so relevant 60 years on. There was an earlier stage version in 1990, by Christopher Sergel, which is still performed in and outside the courthouse of Monroesville Alabama each May, with a jury selected at the interval from white male audience members, just as it would have been in 1930, when the play us set. That was hugely successful at the Open Air Theatre in 2013 and 2014 (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/to-kill-a-mockingbird), but this is a new adaptation from Aaron Sorkin, better known for film and TV.

At it’s core is a courtroom drama, the case of a black man alleged to have raped a white girl. A similar real life case in the same year formed the basis of Kander & Ebb’s musical The Scottsboro Boys, co-incidentally a big success here at the same time as the OAT’s Mockingbird. The court scenes alternate with others set in the town, where we see the social background to the case, the ingrained racism and what we would now call white supremacy. This is contrasted with the goodness of a small number of liberal, kind souls including Atticus Finch, small town lawyer, widower and father of two and Judge Taylor, who persuades Atticus to defend the accused, Tom Robinson.

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation seems to tap in to everything we’ve heard from the far right in recent years. I’m told he’s mined Breitbart, which would account for its resonance today. He’s also added balance by having Atticus’ black housekeeper Calpurnia (a passionate performance from Pamela Nomvete) challenge his blind liberal ‘there’s good in everyone’ sensibility. This takes away some of the saccharine that we Brits sometimes find hard to swallow, leaving a harder edged morality.

Atticus’ two children, Jem & Scout, and their neighbour’s visiting nephew Dill act as narrators and all three – Harry Redding, Gwyneth Keyworth & David Moorst – are terrific. Patrick O’Kane’s characterisation of Bob Ewell, who invents the crime against his daughter whilst himself guilty of abuse, is brilliantly terrifying. We don’t see Rafe Spall on stage anywhere near enough, so it’s great to see him as Atticus, tolerance personified until his shattering outbursts of indignation and rage.

Bartlett Sher’s staging and Miriam Buether’s design are in complete harmony, gently propelling the story organically through many scenes and multiple locations. A deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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Plays usually cross the Atlantic with ease, but I’m not sure this one has. It’s set on a US college campus, somewhere that’s so uniquely American that it effectively distances a non-American audience; well me, anyway. The subject matter of Christopher Shinn’s play should engage and impassion, but it left me rather cold.

It doesn’t revolve around the the title character, but around openly gay Gabe, moving between his somewhat complicated personal life and college life for the LGBT community. Gabe has recently started a relationship with Drew, who writes for the college rag. His best friend Tim, outgoing student president, is (apparently) straight. Tim and his girlfriend Jenny and Drew’s black gay colleague Nicky are involved in Gabe and Drew’s relationship in surprising and not always plausible ways. 

Teddy Ferrara and disabled gay Jay enter Gabe’s life as leader of the college LGBT society, the former wanting someone to talk to and the latter wanting a relationship. As the college president hosts the first meeting of a group set up in response to the college’s diversity committee, Drew’s paper publishes speculation that a recent suicide victim was gay, suggesting gay campus life might be difficult. Teddy Ferrara discovers his room-mate is streaming his casual sex with partners picked up on the internet and his suicide soon follows.

Even though the setting is uniquely American, Shinn’s play, like Neil LaBute’s, are cynically un-American and his characters manipulative and self-centred, even the victims. There’s a lot of story, the issues are relevant and important, but its all very slow and unengaging I’m afraid. I didn’t really care about anyone, which makes it hard to care about the issues. It left me cold.

There are some fine performances, particularly from Mathew Marsh as the clumsy college president and would-be senator, Ryan McPartland in the title role and Pamela Nomvete as lecturer Emma. The accents are uniformly excellent. Hildegard Bechtler’s design is as cold and clinical as the play and Dominic Cooke’s staging lacks pace.

I think it would have worked a lot better if it had been relocated to the UK and shortened by twenty minutes. As it is, a disappointment for me.

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