Writer: John Steinbeck
Director: Guy Unsworth
Reviewer: Cathy Swaby
Nobel Prize winning John Steinbeck’s timeless story of an endearing but unlikely friendship and the American Dream is brought to life in Brighton’s Theatre Royal, currently running for another five nights in the seaside venue, as part of a 10 week UK tour, playing to audiences both old and young. Selladoor Productions in association with The Marlowe Theatre Company have brought this dated but flawless production to life once more, and as with preceding versions of the infamous 1930s portrayal of America, have stuck to Steinbeck’s unblemished script.
At the start of the play, we are introduced to the tale’s central characters, the adept George Milton and the simple-minded, looming Lennie Small, played by the brilliantly cast Richard Keightley and Matthew Wynn respectively. It is the time of the Great Depression in California, and we meet George and Lennie, two migrant workers travelling together, sitting by the sparkling water’s edge day dreaming the impossible dream as they gorge on tinned beans and look towards life on the farm they have always wanted.
The actors’ American accents, from Wynn’s slightly off-kilter and at times unbelievable version, are authentic, and with the Huckleberry Finn style costumes of denim and checked shirts; we are transported to another time. Slim, played by Cameron Robertson, has a particularly booming drawl that slightly overshadows the voices of the other actors who at times are inaudible. Curly’s wife, who of course has no name in this misogynist portrayal, and is played by the striking Rosemary Boyle, is compelling as the maltreated and misunderstood only-female character. She dreams of Hollywood life, which seems even more out of reach than a fruitful farm business for George and Lennie, and seems equally as deluded.
Of Mice and Men attracts a rather cult following, and is also, judging by tonight’s crowd, a pull for a school age audience reading this classic American novel as part of their curriculum. Generation after generation are drawn back to the story’s heart-breaking andlife-affirmingg themes. Steinbeck’s 1937 novella may be dated but its subjects of dreams, aspirations, migration, and friendship, are poignant for any decade. It is a story of being human, of wanting something better for oneself, and of the need for companionship.
One of the most charming elements of this particular stage production is the puppetry used to portray the character of Candy’s frail and stinking dog. This additive cleverly gives the production a more childlike feel, which would perhaps appeal to younger audiences who would possibly find this style of live show a little on the mundane side.
Violent scenes within the storyline are realistically portrayed, and sudden gunshot sound effects force some of the audience quite literally out of their seats. The giant wooden barn, which frames the play and almost acts like a cage in which the characters are trapped within, is slatted with rays of light breaking through intermittently, symbolic and prudent of the beautiful America, the sunset soaked world outside. Set designer Bretta Gerecke has created an uncomplicated but perfectly rustic set which seamlessly adjusts between scenes whilst movement is accompanied by hillbilly musical interludes.
The play throughout carries an underlying sadness, and a longing with which we empathise with the characters portrayal of wanting a better life, a new beginning, that seems so far out of reach. It is ultimately a tragedy which leaves the audience shocked and melancholy, but fulfilled with nostalgia for one of the world’s most admired and familiar works of fiction.
Runs until Saturday 17th March | Image: Scott Rylander