But, although Timothy Sheader’s production of Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel gets off to a rather shaky start with the opening words frustratingly blown away on the wind, by the time the light fades and small town Alabama attorney Atticus Finch quietly dominates the courtroom scene, the focus narrows, the Park casts its usual magic, the tension mounts and the enduring strengths of this American classic set in the 30’s come to the fore.
The adult members of the cast read sections of the narrative from their own various, well-thumbed editions of the novel – a device which emphasises the universality and durability of the lessons to be learnt from this tale of racial prejudice and growing up.
But their natural English accents tend to break the atmosphere created by young tomboy Scout Finch and her brother Jem (played with great likeability and effectiveness by child actors Izzy Lee and Adam Scotland on the night I went) and by the playfully chalked-on lines which define the landmarks in their hometown.
A single tree – first hung with a rubber tyre which serves as Scout’s makeshift swing, later with an ominously dangling noose – dominates the almost bare stage, a reminder that there’s unlikely to be much justice for the black worker (a dignified Richie Campbell) wrongly accused of raping a young white woman.
And Robert Sean Leonard (best known from the TV series House) adds tremendous low-key integrity as the widowed Atticus, a defence lawyer prepared to face a lynch mob and the opprobrium of the townsfolk in order to protect a fellow human being from a fate he doesn’t deserve.
Open Air Theatre
Inner Circle, Regents Park, NW1 4NR
Until 15th June
Photo: Johan Persson