Writer: John Steinbeck
Director: Guy Unsworth
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
Living in 2018 when social care, misogyny, immigration and racism make daily headlines, Steinbeck’s classic, staged by Selladoor reminds us how far we have come as a society, but more poignant is the revelation of how far we still have to go.
For readers unfamiliar with the classic text, set in California during the depression of the 1930s, Of Mice and Men follows the story of George and his friend Lenny who have travelled far from their home to find employment bucking barley.
Composer Mark Aspinall sets the scene of the dusty roads, and crop fields of rural America with a beautiful soundtrack that sounds like it is whistling and weaving along riverbanks and roads, like many travellers of the 1930s.
Key to this timeless story is Lenny’s mental disability, which, along with his size and strength, in contrast to the wiry framed quick thinker that is George, makes the pair somewhat unlikely companions. We know that Lenny needs George, in the most primitive sense of the word. He can’t find work, look after himself or ‘stay outta trouble’ without him. But Guy Unsworth’s direction explores, in heart-warming and heart-wrenching fashion, how much George needs Lenny.
Towering over the rest of the cast at 6’4’’, Matthew Wynn plays Lenny as a child in a man’s body, unaware of his own strength, unaware of the consequences of his actions. He is often infantile, but without being cringworthy, playing that fine line with tact and adroitness. Wynn’s Lenny isn’t a cuddly, stereotypical baby; he is winsome but also naive and obtuse and Wynn plays the different intricacies with tact, avoiding the stereotyping a lesser actor might fall into.
Taking on the enormous challenge of George is Richard Keightley, whose performance subtly warms as the play goes on. Initially, his interpretation comes across as quite regimented, stoic and restrained, hard to warm to. As the story unfolds you realise that deep down this is a true reflection of how George has learnt subconsciously to be through years of looking after Lenny. Controlled, readable, always on guard. This persona falls away as the plot unfolds and hard decisions have to be made.
Along with the two intricate and enthralling performances from the principles, the entire ensemble deserves real praise. Very rarely does one see a play without a weak link and this performance is one of those wonderful occasions. Notable mentions include Cameron Robertson as the likeable Jerkline Skinner, Slim, and Andrew Boyer as the wheezy, ageing Candy, who struggles on with his own disability – both he and Lenny dream of having their own place where their own afflictions won’t count against them.
A beautiful set, designed by David Woodhead sets the scene with lights by Bretta Gerecke. The wooden slatted design gives the stage a dusty, rural feel, with lights shining through wooden slats as the hot sun rises and falls over the fields and farmland of the USA. High praise must also go to sound designer Benjamin Grant whose design really makes the production. The sound effects give the performance real truth and impact when necessary, turning a pool made of light into a real riverbank and a stage fight into a moment of true fear and anguish for the audience.
Despite numerous attempts to ban Steinbeck’s story, you cannot help but see the important place it still holds in today’s society, and its messages are made evermore poignant in this production by Selladoor.
Runs until 14 April 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander