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