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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Busy Rhys Ifans answers the call of the Mockingbird

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Actor Rhys Ifans will play Atticus Finch in a West End adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. The play takes home $2m a week in New York and has inspired Barack Obama.

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Busy Rhys Ifans answers the call of the Mockingbird
BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Busy Rhys Ifans answers the call of the Mockingbird

Rhys Ifans will play Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer who defends an innocent black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the Deep South, in the London production of Broadway hit play To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Welsh-born actor, known for his roles in breakthrough films Twin Town and Notting Hill, and later in The Amazing Spider-Man and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, is a champion of the stage. A graduate of the Guildhall School Of Music & Drama, he frequently treads the boards.

In the past few years he has played Fool to Glenda Jackson’s King Lear, and Scrooge at the Old Vic. He led the National’s Exit The King; and is now at the Royal Court in Ed Thomas’s play On Bear Ridge.

To Kill A Mockingbird, though, is in blockbuster country. The New York production, based on an adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel by Aaron Sorkin, plays to packed houses and takes an average of $2 million a week.

Sorkin kept the substance of Lee’s story about Tom Robinson, who’s sent to court to answer to the fabricated sex charge in a segregated town where the KKK is rampant. The story is told through the eyes of Finch’s two children: daughter Scout, her elder brother Jem and their friend Dill Harris, all played by adults.

I caught Mockingbird twice on Broadway, with Jeff Daniels playing Atticus Finch, and was riveted by director Bartlett Sher’s breathtaking production.

Sher and his creative team, along with producers Scott Rudin and Sonia Friedman, are making final decisions soon as to who will play the roles of the children; as well as the crucial parts of Tom Robinson, Calpurnia, the Finches’ housekeeper, and Mayella Ewell, the young woman who cries rape. Mockingbird will begin performances (as this column revealed back in June) at the Gielgud Theatre on May 21 next year. Tickets go on public sale on December 6 (details about signing up for priority tickets at www.tokillamockingbird.co.uk).

Atticus Finch, one of the most principled idealists in literature, has remained an enduring symbol of equality. President Obama was taken by the moral conscience Lee imbued her courtly lawyer with and often cited lines from the book in his speeches.

There has been a revisionist reckoning by some regarding whether Atticus should still be considered a hero: you know, woke stuff about whether it’s cool for a black man to be saved by a white man. I can’t deny that crossed my mind when I first saw Sher’s production last winter but it was soon dispelled. Good people are good people, whoever the heck they are.

Ifans has several films out next year including Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man, in which he plays Rasputin; and Philippa Lowthorpe’s Misbehaviour, where he portrays one-time Miss World boss Eric Morley.

The actor was also seen in the recent Official Secrets.

 Killian dons the Phantom's mask 

Killian Donnelly will play the masked composer in a new touring production of The Phantom Of The Opera.

The actor, who ends his run as Jean Valjean in a tour of Les Miserables in Southampton tomorrow night, mentioned to Cameron Mackintosh in passing that he’d love to have a crack at the Phantom.

Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber met with him. ‘Andrew loved him,’ Mackintosh told me.

Jess Koravos, CEO of the Really Useful Group, told me the show, a travelling production, is the last version of Phantom that director Hal Prince worked on before he died in July. ‘This is an exact replica of the original West End and Broadway production,’ she added — right down to the famous chandelier.

Mackintosh explained that the tour will be ‘lighter on its feet’. He said: ‘Killian is blessed with this wonderful vocal instrument and as an actor, he’s a chameleon, which means he has a remarkable age range.’

The tour begins at the Curve, Leicester, on February 22. Donnelly will play dates at the Palace in Manchester, Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy and Birmingham Hippodrome from July 29. The show will then continue on the road with another actor as the Phantom.

Donnelly, who came to prominence in The Commitments musical, has played to sold out theatres in Les Miz: a tribute to the show and to him. Regional audiences like to see a bona fide West End star.