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Josephine Balfour-Oatts

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Harper Lee's seminal novel is set to take the West End by storm in 2020

Kill Mockingbird photo.png Fresh from a hugely successful run on Broadway, Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird passes its torch to London's West End. An inital disturbance prior to its opening (a legal dispute concerning a breach of contract) has seen the endvaour plagued by controversy. What does spring 2020 hold for its UK cast? Be the first to find out - tickets go on general release today, Friday 6th December. 

Next Spring, Harper Lee’s seminal novel To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) is set to explode onto London’s West End. Adapted for the stage by Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing and screenwriter of the Oscar-winning The Social Network) and directed by Bartlett Sher, this event marks the 60thanniversary of the book’s publication. Hosted by the Gielgud Theatre, Lee’s perennial tale of racial inequality – set in 1930’s Alabama – is a narrative torn from the pages of the author’s own life story.

Since its opening on Broadway during December 2018, the production has seen a record-breaking box office profit for a non-musical play, grossing over $1.5 million before the end of its first month alone. However, Sorkin’s reworking has not been without difficulty. The fact that this production is not only a far removal from previous adaptations, but also from the novel itself, served to light a fire beneath the endeavour prior to its opening. However, this exercising of artistic licence soon became the root of controversy.

In March 2018, the Harper Lee estate filed a lawsuit against the play’s production company, on the grounds that the script strayed too far from Lee’s original. Its status as a classic of modern American literature and Pulitzer Prize winner has earned the novel pride of place on the school syllabus the world over. As a result, the character of lawyer Atticus Finch is well known for his strong sense of moral integrity – a temperament that Sorkin was set on embroidering with a more obtuse thread.

Producer Scott Rudin promptly spearheaded a retaliation, countersuing for breach of contract the month afterwards. The legal dispute was resolved by May 2018, under conditions that their initial portrayal of the iconic Finch, be changed. The legal bodies attached to the case also raised concerns over the inflation of the role played by Ms. Calpurnia – maid to the Finch family – within the story, as well as the addition of two characters that do not appear in Lee’s text.

Both Sorkin and Rudin have asserted pragmatic reasoning behind these revisions – mainly, in their mission to translate the racial inequalities present at the time when the story is set, effectively to a modern audience. Rhys Ifans is set to head the UK cast, taking over from Broadway’s Jeff Daniel to star as Finch. As of yet, there is no whisper of the performers that will join him. Though, if the troupe are anything like that of its American sibling, it seems that the event is destined for success.