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For most people their first experience of the classic novel and much loved To Kill A Mockingbird goes hand in glove with studying it for school exams.

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It was no exception for Emmerdale and Hollyoaks star Matt Milburn who first read Harper Lee’s book at school.

Matt is playing the principled lawyer Atticus Finch who fights to bring his children up well whilst he has to face the ugly truth of the racism confronting his innocent client who is charged with rape.

Matt said: “Atticus is such an iconic figure I couldn’t turn this role down. He has got this pleasant demeanour and treats his children as adults. He has such strong moral principles.”

That code of conduct remains with him in the courtroom and Matt said the way Atticus stays true to himself at home and as a lawyer fighting for his client fascinated him.

He said he hopes the audience will be transfixed with this compelling tale of confronting prejudice which is as relevant now as when it was published in 1960. The moving book won the Pulitzer prize and injected its message with humour and warmth.

“This is a play that people can identify with in terms of the social and moral issues it deals with an racism which is still rearing its ugly head.”

Matt is known to tv audiences as locum vet Nicky Pritchard in Emmerdale where sometimes he had just 20 minutes to read a revised script before shooting the scene. He made his name as student Joe Spencer in hit soap Hollyoaks.

He said he was enjoying putting in the hours preparing for his role as Atticus before and after rehearsals.

“People can tell if you are telling the truth. The only way you can do that is putting in the work at home, when you are at rehearsals and by going home and doing your homework.”

But he deliberately avoided watching Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning movie performance before he got his teeth into the role.

“I wanted to come up with my own interpretation before I was influenced by anybody else.

Set in Alabama during the depression, the story is narrated by a young girl, Scout Finch. With her brother and friend, the children become fascinated by Boo Radley, a local man who never leaves his house. He has an evil reputation. Meanwhile, Scout’s father, Atticus Finch agrees to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Atticus wants to reveal the truth that Tom is innocent to his fellow townspeople, expose their bigotry and encourage them to imagine the possibility of racial equality. The trial pits the evidence of the white Ewell family against Tom with dramatic consequences.

The show runs at the Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls, Croydon at 7.30pm from Thursday February 2 to Saturday February 4 with matinees on Friday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets are available from the Fairfield Box Office 020 8688 9291 or online at www.fairfield.co.uk priced Adults £11, Concessions £9, Schools £7.50, Family Ticket (2 Adults & 2 Children) £35.

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