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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Rafe Spall to star as heroic lawyer Atticus Finch in stage adaptation

Rafe Spall will play the most famous lawyer in literature — Atticus Finch — in a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

Finch defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in America’s segregated South in the 1930s.

The play, by Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin, was a huge hit on Broadway and will run at the Gielgud Theatre in London‘s West End from March next year; nearly two years after it was originally set to open.

Rafe Spall will play the most famous lawyer in literature — Atticus Finch — in a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird

The adaptation will not be a 'Xerox copy' of the Broadway production starring Jeff Daniels (pictured) in 2018, Aaron Sorkin said

The adaptation will not be a ‘Xerox copy’ of the Broadway production starring Jeff Daniels (pictured) in 2018, Aaron Sorkin said

An initial opening date this June has had to be moved back, owing to industry uncertainty.

As Cameron Mackintosh, who owns the Gielgud, observed only yesterday, it will be many months before the theatre industry can resume anything approaching ‘normality’.

He has gifted another £1 million (he gave £2 million last year) from his Mackintosh Foundation to the Theatre Artists Fund.

Rhys Ifans had been set to play Finch, but a commitment clash meant he had to withdraw.

Ed Harris (pictured) took over the part from Daniels before New York theatres went dark

Ed Harris (pictured) took over the part from Daniels before New York theatres went dark

The play, by Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (pictured), was a huge hit on Broadway and will run at the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End

The play, by Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (pictured), was a huge hit on Broadway and will run at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End

In the play, Finch defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in America's segregated South in the 1930s

In the play, Finch defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in America’s segregated South in the 1930s

When I spoke to Sorkin in Los Angeles, he told me his searing adaptation of the 1960 landmark novel will not be a ‘Xerox copy’ of the Broadway production, which originally starred Jeff Daniels in 2018. (Ed Harris took over the part, before New York theatres went dark.) Sorkin said the London show would be an opportunity to do it ‘all over again, new’.

The book (and the 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck) are revered — though even ardent fans might concede there is hateful racism in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, which Atticus doesn’t acknowledge, because he sees the good in ‘all of his friends and neighbours’, as Sorkin put it.

When he first made changes to the hallowed tome, he was determined not to ‘do a Harper Lee impersonation’. He did not want his play to feel ‘like a museum piece’ — it doesn’t.

The book by Harper Lee (and the 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck, pictured) are revered

The book by Harper Lee (and the 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck, pictured) are revered

But, in the three years since then, ‘some tectonic things have happened all over the world’. Those sensibilities were already rippling through Sorkin’s work, but, in light of events such as the Black Lives Matter protests, and the downfall of a racist American president, further adjustments may be necessary.

‘It’s entirely possible I could be sitting in rehearsal in London, watching, and thinking that there’s something that should resonate here,’ he told me.

The casting of 38-year-old Spall is a masterstroke. He knows his way around a southern accent, having played an Alabama district attorney in Just Mercy. And he’s one of the best actors of his generation, with leading stage and film roles (Hot Fuzz!); plus starring parts in TV’s The Salisbury Poisonings and Trying (with terrific Esther Smith), the second season of which runs on Apple TV+ from May 14.

Spall knows his way around a southern accent, having played an Alabama district attorney in Just Mercy

Spall knows his way around a southern accent, having played an Alabama district attorney in Just Mercy

Sorkin, along with the play’s director Bartlett Sher and producer Scott Rudin, sealed the deal with their leading man in the past few days. ‘I’m meeting him on Zoom soon,’ he told me.

Sonia Friedman, who is producing the show at the Gielgud, where it begins previewing from March 10, 2022 (with an official opening on March 31) told me there will be education and community initiatives, with 500 tickets a week available for £5-£10.

Tickets go on sale from April 6. Existing ticket holders will be contacted about their bookings, which will be transferred to a new date, plus details on how to exchange and other options.

Jenny Seagrove (in between rehearsing to play Ian McKellen’s mum Gertrude in Hamlet) and Martin Shaw will return to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a four-week socially-distanced run (from May 19) in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters. 

The pair gave nine performances before the third lockdown. 

‘They were desperate to say goodbye,’ producer Bill Kenwright told me. 

Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw will return to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a four-week socially-distanced run (from May 19) in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters (pictured)

Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw will return to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a four-week socially-distanced run (from May 19) in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters (pictured)

Surely it is some kind of sign that business as usual is returning, as I hear rumours of high-decibel discord behind the scenes of a new musical. 

Tears, tantrums . . . the whole kit and caboodle. I bet opening dates will shift. 

Samantha Barks and Ramin Karimloo will star in a feature film version of Laurence Mark Wythe’s 2006 musical Tomorrow Morning, about one couple’s relationship, playing out on parallel timelines.

Samantha Barks

Ramin Karimloo

Samantha Barks (left) and Ramin Karimloo (right) will star in a feature film version of Laurence Mark Wythe’s 2006 musical Tomorrow Morning

Director Nick Winston, making his film debut, told me Barks and Karimloo will be required to age ten years as their stories unfold (and rewind).

A stage revival had been planned for this year, but Winston and producer John Danbury decided on a big-screen version instead, incorporating several new songs by Wythe.

Omid Djalili, Fleur East and Harriet Thorpe will also star in the film, which shoots on locations in Wapping, East London, in May and June.

Omid Djalili

Fleur East

Omid Djalili (left), Fleur East (right) and Harriet Thorpe will also star in the film, which shoots on locations in Wapping, East London, in May and June


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