Clas­sic tale of race

Harper Lee’s fa­mous novel To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is set to take to the stage in its lat­est re­vival at the Wy­combe Swan next month. Jo-Anne Rowney speaks to Vic­to­ria Bewick who plays Mayetta about racism, evil and why this play is dif­fer­ent

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SET in the deep south Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize win­ning novel To Kill a Mock­ing­bird shows how racial in­jus­tice takes hold of a small town com­mu­nity. Lawyer At­ti­cus Finch seeks th truth while his daugh­ter Scout brings hope to the neigh­bour­hood in a story that con­tin­ues to stand the test of time.

I re­mem­ber clearly turn­ing th browned pages of my mother’s copy as a child, as she ea­gerly told me how she had been in­tro­duced to it in her younger years.

It is this kind of en­chant­ment that the tale in­stills in peo­ple, and why Vic­to­ria Bewick was drawn to the play.

“It’s spe­cial to so many peo­ple,” she said. “I never stud­ied it but had read it in my late teens.

“When I heard about the au­di­tions for the first re­vival I wanted to try.

“I first thought Scout was the role for me and I got to the last few but I didn’t get it. I got au­di­tioned for Mayella then.”

Mayella Ewell is at the cen­tre of the story as she ac­cuses black man, Tom Robin­son of rap­ing and beat­ing her.

Those who have read To Kill a Mock­ing­bird will tell you how for ev­ery reader the story un­folds in its own per­sonal way.

“When­ever we talk about it ev­ery­one has their own book, their own story,” Vic­to­ria added. “That’s a trap an ac­tor can fall in to.

“If we want to play a depth of character we have to see beyond what we read though.”

Mayetta can be cast as the vil­lain of the piece, but again To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is not about say­ing who is evil, it’s about cast­ing light on to the grey ar­eas and mak­ing us ques­tion what makes peo­ple be­have the way they do.

“No one is play­ing a bad­die,” she said. “I don’t see Mayetta as a bad­die, I see her as a vic­tim of a sit­u­a­tion she grows up with an alchie.

“She has never been nu­tured. She made a decision when it came to Tim Robin­son. He was the first per­son to treat her with re­spect and I think she does love him.

“It would be hard to play her if I thought she was just evil. The prob­lem is as with any per­son in life – that she has gone too far with it.

“You can’t ever play a mur­derer or psy­co­path think­ing that they think they are wrong. It just would not work.”

When you hear Vic­to­ria talk about the play in such se­ri­ous tones you ei­ther fall one of two ways – drawn in and want­ing to know more, or slightly fear­ful of the depth of such a story.

So what is the ap­peal and which one wins out?

“Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence of the book de­pend­ing on when you read it,” Vic­to­ria said. “As an only child it fas­ci­nated me, I loved read­ing about Gem and Scout. There’s an in­no­cence in it. It’s time­less and we can all re­late to a character.”

At­ti­cus, their fa­ther, is also an iconic character who draws peo­ple in.

“At­ti­cus is some­one ev­ery­one looks up to and we want to be,” she said. “He rep­re­sents moral­ity and jus­tice. Be­cause it is hor­ren­dous but we re­alise that this kind of racism still goes on. That’s why the book is still taught and read.”

This ver­sion of the play also presents the clas­sic in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. It starts dif­fer­ently. “The way the show starts is very dif­fer­ent. I don’t want to spoil it but we start as our­selves, our own voices, shar­ing our own ex­pe­ri­ences of the book,” she added.

“Then we snap into character. We are read­ing aloud, and I think that sim­ple fact is dif­fer­ent in it­self.”

I ask how au­di­ences re­act to that – the last time I was read aloud to was at school.

“We aren’t used to hear­ing peo­ple read aloud to us,” Vic­to­ria agrees. “The re­ac­tion I have gleaned is that it helps us go on a jour­ney, like a nar­ra­tor.That was Tim’s [di­rec­tor] vi­sion.”

It also trans­lates into how the pro­duc­tion and set works.

Vic­to­ria said: “The stage is bare and we slowly put it to­gether. It means I feel very much part of an en­sem­ble which is great, we are all given a chance to play

Flutist Jen­nifer St­in­ton with con­duc­tor Iain Led­ing­ham

Harry Ben­nett as Jem, and in­set, Vic­to­ria Bewick as Mayella Ewell

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