Since it was first published in 1960, Harper Lee’s only novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, has never lost its popularity.
In 2006 it was voted by British librarians as the novel they would most recommend to readers and (for now) it is a staple of exam syllabuses.
Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation comes to the Lyceum next week.
The story shows racial injustice enveloping a small-town community in the American Deep South.
With courage and compassion, lawyer Atticus Finch seeks justice, while his feisty daughter, Scout – a young girl on the cusp of adulthood – brings new hope to a neighbourhood in turmoil.
Zackary Momoh plays Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman whom Atticus Finch defends amid great hostility.
“ I seem to have been one of the few people that hadn’t read it before,” admits the actor. “Of course I had heard of it and Atticus Finch is one of the most famous American characters.
“Reading it at an older age gives me a different take from if I had been younger. That’s the amazing thing – there are schoolkids who are studying it or people like me in my 20s, all taking something different from it. People from all walks of life and ages all have a connection with the story.”
As to his character: “In the book Tom Robinson is quite anonymous but in the play he is ever-present.
“He knows how important this is. His life is on the line and he must be careful about how he appears.
“He is conflicted. All he can do is tell the truth but even then the truth can be against him.
“Why did he run and what was a black man doing in a white woman’s house? The courtroom scene is very tense and exciting and quite moving and heartrending with the speech by Atticus.”
It is all presented in a theatrical way in the production, first performed at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and on tour which ends at the Barbican this summer.
“The cast are almost like narrators as well as playing their individual parts. We read the book to the audience, “ explains Momoh.
“The stage is on a rake but very bare. We are all on stage all the time. There’s just a massive tree and we see Scout’s swing. You will have to see the play to know how the town is constructed.”
Last year Momoh was at the National Theatre in From Morning to Midnight and before that understudied Adrian Lester in Nicholas Hytner’s critically acclaimed Othello for the National Theatre. When he did appear he was the youngest Othello in the history of the West End, being only 24.
“The past two and a half years have been a nice mix for me of stage and screen,” he reflects. “I had a small role in the new Kingman film (out next week) and now I am signed up for nine months on tour. To do a great piece like this , every night is an honour”.
To Kill A Mockingbird is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.