Thursday, October 16, 2014

School Ties - To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies - Theatre Reviews

To Kill A Mockingbird - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
By Harper Lee, Dramatized by Christopher Sergel, Directed by Allen MacInnis
Runs until Nov. 2nd 2014

Lord of the Flies - A New Adventures and Re:Bourne Production at Sadler's Wells - London, UK - **** (out of 5 stars)
Based on the novel by William Golding, Music by Terry Davies, Choregraphed by Scott Ambler, Adapted and Directed by Scott Ambler and Matthew Bourne
Ended Oct. 11th 2014. Continues on Tour.

Either To Kill a Mockinbird or Lord of the Flies, if not both, were probably in your required reading in school, and have long become modern classics. New stage productions bring these classic tales to life that remind us that these controversial and dark tales still have an enduring punch. A sad reminder that despite the many years since these stories first debuted, little progress in societal behaviour have been made, as we sit watching these old stories all while things like Ferguson, still happen in this day and age.


Young People Theatre's To Kill A Mockingbird doesn't flourish the still-gut punching story with fancy directorial visions and presents Harper Lee's still urgent tale of injustice in a plain and matter-of-fact staging. While the lighting and vision could have added a bit more atmosphere (perhaps with a musical score and lighting that could add to the heat of the south during the summer this story ), a strong cast, lead by Jeff Miller (The Normal Heart) as Atticus Finch, is all the emotional punch required to make this classic book work on stage.

In 90 minutes, Harper Lee's story is effectively streamlined without skimping over the darker issues in this production geared for young people. The story of Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of sexual assault and his trial as seen through the eyes of his lawyers young daughter Scout Finch, is a great entry for Young People's audience, and the parralel story of the hidden neighbour Boo Radley, nicely bookends the morality tale of the ostracized in society.

Up-and-comer Caroline Toal (in a total 180 from her seductive turn in Cockfight) plays the curious and young Scout, who along with her brother Jem  (a genial Noah Spitzer) and visiting kid Dill (a spunky and luminous Tal Shulman), mischievously investigates and follows along the trial Scout and Jem's lawyer father Atticus' client Robinson (the solid Matthew G. Brown), despite the misgivings of their caretaker Calpurnia (a radiantly feisty Lisa Berry from This is War). Rounding out the terrific cast includes a horrifyingly mesmerizing turn from Jessica Moss (Was Spring) as accuser Mayella Ewell, an equally scary Hume Baugh as her father Bob Ewell, and Mark Crawford (The Normal Heart) as the prosecuting lawyer and later Boo Radley.


Now Lord of the Flies, the tale of boys trapped on an island who must learn to survive and live as their own society but sadly devolves into treacherous madness and violence, is not exactly the first story that you would think of as something to be translated into a ballet, but that's what Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures company has done. To spectacular, if sometimes inconsistent results.

Originally commissioned to create a dance piece for boys as a community project in Galway, Bourne approached the Golding estate, lead by William Golding's daughter Judy, who agreed to the piece. What has transpired is a professional piece that combines a professional cast of dancers with local amateur boys, some who have never danced before, in each tour stop that, and the mix of the professional and raw movements are a perfect match for the story of school boys who devolve into their inner wild demons.

With some retooling for the dance stage, the story has been reset into a theatre, and with that, some clever changes (like salvaging for food, the boys end up eating ice cream cups and crisps), as they are trapped in the isolating space as some sort of riot seems to be going on in the outside world. As the school boys first appear, they are lead in synchronizing choreography. Well behaved boys following the rules society has set. As the isolation and power plays devolve, we get incredible choreography with boys trying to out power each other, that eventually ends up in wild and loose movements and in dance duels, allowing for the rarity of seeing male dancers together in struggles of strength and control.

Transferring the story into a theatre doesn't always work, and is most glaring when the pig shows up (where would a live pig appear in a theatre?) but while some of the story details require one to gloss over the re-imagining of William Golding's classic island tale, the raw emotions, and easily identified struggles of the boys are still effecting and powerful.

Sam Plant's Piggy, our central nerd, is exceptionally wonderful and moving as the bullied and the true hero of the story. Danny Reubens is thrillingly disturbing as master troublemaker Jack, and Layton Williams has some beautiful solo moments as Simon. Dan Wright, Sam Archer, Jack Hazelton, Ross Carpenter and Philip King round out the excellent older kids while the younger cast are just as stunning.

Photo of To Kill A Mockingbird by Jill Ward
Photo of Lord of the Flies by Helen Maybanks
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