A POIGNANT tale with a powerful message has been brought before Bolton audiences in the Octagon Theatre’s season opener.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird follows the struggle of lawyer Atticus Finch as he strives to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been wrongly accused of attacking a white woman.

The story is told through the eyes of his daughter Scout and brings to the stage the battles, courage and beliefs, both good and bad, in a town fraught with racial prejudice.

A cast of both young and old are brought together for the production which mixes both charm and tension in equal measure.

Played in the round, director Elizabeth Newman and designer Amanda Stoodley, pull the audience into Scout’s world with some very clever staging.

At the heart of the production was the young cast, with six youngsters swapping over the roles each night.

The three leads for tonight’s show were Jasmine De Goede as Scout, Adam Crompton as her friend Dill and Che Tligui as her brother Jem.

With all three it felt as if you were watching the real children of the book come to life and they looked at ease on stage, taking the audience on a journey from light-hearted play to a feeling of genuine threat and terror towards the end.

The sincerity and subtlety of the performance of the older cast were of equal strength.

Rather like an apparition, overlooking the production and leading the audience on the journey, was Barbara Drennan who was excellent as the now older Scout, looking back on the fateful events of the trial and surrounding years.

The warmth and kindness of Finch was brought to life by Rob Edwards who put on a powerful performance as the even-handed role-model hero, no more so than in the courtroom scenes.

Here the production expanded into the audience, drawing you into the scene and made you very much part of the drama playing out before you.

So much so that during Finch’s famous final speech you could almost hear a pin drop in the auditorium.

Marc Small was strikingly heart-breaking as the wronged Robinson, and alongside another powerful performance by Remmie Milner as his wife Helen, and Harry Long’s unnerving presence as the hateful and dangerous Bob Ewell, it brought home the tragedy of Lee’s tale.

Despite the darkness there is also great warmth and humour in the production which features many returning cast to the Octagon, including Vicky Binns, John Branwell, Christian Edwards, Margot Leicester, Flow Wilson and Philip Starnier, as well as new faces Leila Mimmack and Trevor Michael Georges.

Walking out into a hot and sticky night – not unlike one which Lee’s herself would have known – audiences are left with the memory of Tom’s story but also a message of hope and compassion to take away.

To Kill a Mockingbird is on at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday, October 15.