The night the lights went out in Stratford...
When heading to a night out at the Stratford Festival, I always know we are in for an eventful evening. And that was never truer than the night we recently went to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Festival Theatre. But don't worry; it's a tale with a happy ending.
The lights went down and the show started -- everything was business as usual. And then the lights went out! For a moment, I thought it was part of the story, so I thought nothing of it. Then the stage manager made an announcement that they had lost power and they were waiting for the backup generator to take over. You see, Mother Nature was throwing quite the temper tantrum outside, with wind, rain, and a host of other meteorological not-so-niceties. The power outage was through no fault of the theatre at all; it was just one of those things.
In true professional style, the actors that were on stage during the power outage simply took the situation on the chin and awaited direction. They were asked to leave the stage until the problem was fixed, which only took a few minutes. No big deal. Once the issue was fixed, the actors came back out on stage and continued where they had left off...and then it happened again! It seems Mother Nature wasn't finished throwing a fit, and the backup generator hadn't quite been prepared to take over. So, the actors were once again asked to leave the stage. A few minutes later (the audience was given a break while the issue was figured out, with the apologies of the stage manager). Before long, the actors were back on stage, the lights were up, and all proceeded as planned.
Needless to say, that was a bit of an eventful start to the show! But I have to commend the cast and crew for how they handled the situation, from the way the actors had a sense of humour about it to how friendly and apologetic the stage manager was about the situation. The Stratford Festival does everything with class and professionalism, and this was just one more example of that.
But, on with the show....
To Kill a Mockingbird has long been a favourite story of mine. More than just the story, however, it's the characters that I've always been drawn into, especially young Scout. In this production, Clara Poppy Kushnir brilliantly brings to life the spunky and precocious character from Harper Lee's iconic story. She absolutely stole the show, with a magical performance from beginning to end. Her performance leapt off the stage, shining brightly (even when the lights went out!) This kid has a lifetime on the stage ahead of her -- mark my words.
Clara Poppy Kushnir as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Photography by David Hou.
Another stellar performance was that of Jonathan Goad in the role of Atticus Finch. Goad embodied the iconic character with every cell of his body. Having seen and loved the movie so much, I wondered whether Goad was going to be able to step up to the plate and fill out Atticus' shoes as convincingly as Gregory Peck did. Not only need Goad meet that challenge (never an easy task to play a role made famous by someone such as Peck), he also put his own flavour on the role, adding nuances that made it his own. One of my favourite Atticus scenes is in the courtroom when he is getting ready to deliver his coup de grace legal argument. He paces the courtroom, requests permission from the court to remove his jacket, and slowly but deliberately rolls up his sleeves, as if to tell the audience and those in the courtroom, watch this. And watch we did. We watched as he presented that pivotal plot point that he hoped would change the trajectory of the trial.
Jonathan Goad as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Photography by David Hou.
One of the most magical aspects of this production was the way the story was told by a grown-up Scout, played by Irene Poole. This grown-up Scout invites us into her memories, moving through the scenes unfolding on stage like a ghost. I won't spoil anything here, but a very special bit of theatre magic happens at the knothole in the tree outside Boo Radley's house and at other times throughout the play, when past meets present in a subtle, but truly special, way.
When I heard that the Stratford Festival was going to be presenting To Kill a Mockingbird this season, I was so excited. I couldn't wait to see this show, and I hoped with every fibre of my being that it would be done well. As usual, The Stratford Festival delivered on its promise to bring to life beloved stories like these in a world-class way, bringing together stellar performances, great storytelling, and a sprinkling of theatre magic along the way.
Irene Poole as Jean Louise Finch with members of the company in To Kill a Mockingbird. Photography by David Hou.