Why Huck Finn, Why Now?

Huck Finn premiered at CTC in the 2006-2007 season and is part of the theatre’s ongoing commitment to reimagining classics for the stage. Director Greg Banks and actor Ansa Akyea share their thoughts on this classic story and its relevance today.

Greg Banks on Adapting Huck Finn

Greg Banks

As an Englishman, I felt a bit wary about adapting such an all-American story for the stage. However, I think that not being an American meant that I could approach the story with fresh eyes. I am aware that the book has courted some controversy in The States since its publication and is currently banned in some schools. It’s important that we don’t shy away from the past, however uncomfortable it might be. We need to learn from the past and telling stories is a helpful tool in understanding how things were and how they could change.

In adapting the story, I wanted to capture the adventurous spirit of the book, the awesome size of the Mississippi and most importantly, the relationship between Jim (a black man) and Huck (a poor white boy) who become friends, irrespective of race and age, against a background of slavery, prejudice and racism. I hope I have moved some way towards achieving that aim.

Ansa Akyea on Why Huck Finn Matters Today

Ansa Akyea

Aside from the opportunity to work with such a stellar group of collaborators, I am doing this story for my children. I'm doing this play for them to see and understand the challenges of the world they are coming into; a world of inequality based on race, a world filled with demands on humanity based on profit and money, and a world where being yourself can be the purest, most dangerous and political act you can make. I am doing this piece because it captures Mark Twain's American literary genius in reflecting man's capacity for cruelty in the institution of slavery, man's ability to love beyond skin color, and the importance of family beyond definition, country, and freedom. I wanted to do this production again because CTC has the theatrical acumen and the artistic ethics to challenge and tackle a difficult part of American history, a history that we are still struggling to confront. This story inspires us to raise the bar on imagination, to unlock limitations of thought and action, and it reminds us that we are capable of anything, good and bad, but we have the power and grace to change our circumstance regardless. This is the gift that I give my son and my daughter in performing this piece again at CTC and this is the reason why I am doing this production of Huck Finn.