DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Of Mice and Men – Leeds Playhouse

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: John Steinbeck

Director: Iqbal Khan

John Steinbeck cannily wrote his novella,Of Mice and Men,almost totally in dialogue, with some wonderful passages of description interspersed. As a result an almost unchanged version hit the stage two months after publication and, most important of all, dramatised versions have usually stuck close to the original – and held audiences in their grip until the unbearable final scene.

This version, directed by Iqbal Khan for Birmingham Rep, is good, but doesn’t quite have that bite – and considering why comes up with a variety of possibilities. First – and most simple – had it not fully adjusted to the Leeds Playhouse stage on opening night? Maybe Lee Ravitz’s rasping Candy and his odd puppet dog confuse the audience into finding it a comedy at times – or perhaps the difficulty lies with William Young’s Lennie. Very moving physically, for the first half he is constantly on the borderline of too quiet. Inept fight scenes don’t help, but by the time of the Lennie-Curley confrontation the magic should have taken hold.

Few ex-GCSE students will need to be told, but Steinbeck’s mini-masterpiece deals with two migrant workers in California, George Milton and Lennie Small. George, for no particular reason (to give himself an excuse for never achieving anything would be the uncharitable view – Steinbeck suggests something nobler), protects Lennie, a simple-minded giant, as they tour the farms and ranches. Just before the story starts there has been the affair at Weed when Lennie was so fixated on a girl’s dress that he would not let go – and the two narrowly escaped.

Lennie loves everything soft, petting small animals to death, frightening young women by his hold on the fabric of their dresses. But George always has the dream of a little place of their own, with alfalfa and rabbits – Lennie, of course, will get to look after the rabbits. This latest placement will bring achievement dreamily nearer before shattering the whole idea. The crucial trio consists of the Boss’s cowardly strutting son Curley, his newly wed wife desperate for (male?) company – and any man who gets drawn into their influence – Lennie?

Ciaran Bagnall’s set is a splendid background to the action, assembled with panache redolent ofSeven Brides for Seven Brothersin the first half, dramatically woody – and strikingly lit – after the interval. Music (Elizabeth Purnell) seems less successful: the link to union songs of the 30s makes a sort of sense, but the audience has to supply too much of the hinterland.

A bunkhouse cast deliver telling performances, with Simon Darwen’s laconic Slim, Riad Ritchie’s Curley, desperately seeking someone to blame, and Maddy Hill’s lost waif of his wife particularly impressive. Tom McCall delivers a beautifully self-effacing performance as George, never overplaying that famous last scene.

Runs until 27th May 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Moving and dramatic

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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