Home Street musicians The week at the theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird; Mozart’s Question; Clybourne Park – the review | Theater

The week at the theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird; Mozart’s Question; Clybourne Park – the review | Theater

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NOTo Stuffy on the porch, no scuppernongs, no pickled pork hocks. Above all, no real sense of the simultaneous strangeness and closeness of others. Director Bartlett Sher’s production of Harper Lee’s gripping novel Kill a mockingbird arrives on flurries of Broadway hits and tides of righteous thought. It has a solid central performance from Rafe Spall, full of modest conviction as white lawyer Atticus Finch, and a flamboyant one from Patrick O’Kane as the Klan-leaning bully. Nonetheless, it’s a slim, often awkward evening. More of an argument than an experience.

Aaron Sorkin’s “new play” puts the courtroom drama, in which Finch defends a black worker against a false accusation of rape, front and center from the get-go. It’s the setting for the whole evening rather than the culmination of longstanding exclusions and tribalism. For the first time, a drawing by the great Miriam Buether kept me away from the action rather than immersing myself in it: courtroom, farmhouse and prison are alternately perched in a gray warehouse and dreary. The sense of an inbred township in which families can identify traits from generation to generation – “one in three Merriweather is morbid” – is missing, visually and verbally. In Lee’s novel, scent and fury are a poisonous mix: the feminine-looking white women stirring up their prejudices while sipping their tea are the delicate version of the men who gather in balaclavas ready to lynch. The feeling of pressure from the group would add dramatic force: the stage is often undercrowded, especially in the courtroom scene (compare the maddening crowds in Gregory Peck’s film!) where the spectators do not lean forward waiting for the action but are locked in a small space like interrogative parakeets.

Also lacking is the lush idiosyncrasy of the novel. The story of outsider Boo Radley, feared and persecuted by children, is absent until the final scenes when, in a sudden chatter of plot summaries, he pops up behind a door (Boo!). Lee’s novel creates a landscape in which anyone whose life is not known comes under suspicion. Sorkin’s play is about a simple confrontation.

The N-word is used more than once, but some aspects of the novel have been adjusted. The black housekeeper Calpurnia – more or less silent in Lee’s account – forcefully, and not quite plausibly, attacks Finch for expecting her to be grateful, while Finch is seen as less wholly heroic. , especially because he expects gratitude. Yet Calpurnia lacks the inner weight of white children (one of whom is modeled after Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote) driving the plot, telling the audience what’s going on. They often do this while romping – they look way too clean and scary. They instruct us rather than, as the novel does and as all great theater should do, allow us to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

I hope West End audiences now on their feet for To kill a mockingbird could soon do the same for Mozart’s Question. What a radiant production Jessica Daniels made of the Michael Morpurgo short story. I’ve had trouble getting to Cirencester’s Barn since it opened in 2018; it is now at the top of my list of theaters to build a day around. The former Nissen hut on the outskirts of a golden city, with a capacity of 200 people under its wooden rafters, not only recharges established pieces, but creates new works. Like here.

“A radiant staging”: Lara Lewis in The Mozart Question. Photography: Alex Tabrizi

It is the important story of Jewish musicians forced by the Nazis to play their instruments in concentration camps, often as a terrible, disinfectant welcome to new arrivals from the trains. It is a vital memorial, which also raises the question of whether art is contaminated by circumstances. Vicki Berwick’s adaptation could do with a few creases; he sometimes falls into the dish (“you lost our music… don’t lose our son”) in a staging that shows wonderfully that words are not the only way to direct a theatrical plot in the theater.

Eight of the nine performers are musicians: a tight ensemble of strings that weave their dialogue with notes from Rossini, klezmer and Vivaldi, as well as Wolfgang. A violin duet, one slowly embracing the other, is heard as two characters fall in love. A teenager finds a unique voice when he picks up the violin, changing from teenage strumming to silvery sound. As the prisoners dream of a life outside the camp, they hear – inaccessible but nonetheless present – ​​the harmony resounding around them.

A traditional Venice – lampposts, puppets and warm summer nights – is evoked by Ceci Calf’s beautifully stripped-down design in which a crumbling brick wall is covered with small pages of sheet music. Gorgeous lighting by Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner carves out a warm space for a friendly barber shop (in a lovely touch, the musician who laid down his violin in favor of shears is praised for the pace with which he cuts hair). Then the color flows. The camps, reached in a burst of smoke like a train, are evoked by the lack of light and by the immobility. Standing as if gripped by an iron fist, at a painful moment, the musicians deform their bodies, lifting cellos and violins into the air: the instruments seem to have their own life.

“The bite of its novelty has waned”: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris. Photography: Mark Douet

Clybourne Park was a knockout when it opened at the Royal Court 12 years ago. Bruce Norris’ play is a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s powerful 1959 exploration of racism and money in America, A raisin in the sun: his skill is in disguising satire as parlor comedy, teasing the audience with embarrassing jokes, and using the resources of the theater to pivot his preconceptions. The first half shows a comfortable, bourgeois white neighborhood – streetlights, the National geographic, a woman in a starched skirt busying herself with ice cold drinks – surprised by the arrival of a black family (are they skiing?); the second shows the same neighborhood a generation later, when most homeowners are black and the incoming threat comes from a white couple who want to raze the area’s history through demolition. “The history of America is the history of private property, declares one character; James Turner’s neat, economical design makes the point, starting and ending with a large, lighted dollhouse at center stage.

It still feels clever, and sometimes penetrating, but the bite of its novelty has waned: the second half thins out; it is a needle rather than a threat. Still, director Oliver Kaderbhai’s very bright and crisp production makes the case for its revival. There’s a terrific performance from Katie Matsell, who doubles as a deeply deaf, patronizing wife and a talkative, throatless liberal. Oh, and the best tampon joke since the days of poor Charles and Camilla. Why do tampons look like white women? Answers on a non-PC PC.

Star ratings (out of five)
Kill a mockingbird
★★★
Mozart’s Question ★★★★
Clybourne Park ★★★