Writer: John Steinbeck (based on his novel)
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Relevant to what is happening worldwide today, as displaced people struggle to find work and a home, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men packs as potent a punch as ever. Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences back in the 1920s, it tells the story of two migrant farm workers, bonded together by their joint dream of being able to afford to buy a small piece of land and build their own home.
Set in America during the Great Depression, the play has at its core the themes of otherness and loneliness, coupled with friendship and loyalty. The action centres around the lives of two men, George and Lennie. The former, intelligent but uneducated has become the voluntary guardian and protector of Lennie, whose limited mental ability, coupled with physical strength, soon lands him in trouble and – in Lennie’s words – “Bad things.” Events spiral out of control and George faces up to the unenviable task of shielding Lennie both from justice – and himself.
First staged on Broadway in 1937 and many times since, this play delivers a punch that does not lessen with time and this fine production, directed by Birmingham Repertory Company’s Roxana Silbert, proves once again what a first class company this is. As George, William Rodell rises to the challenge of a central role that calls for him to be on stage in almost every scene and includes long passages, which, although dialogue, could almost be described as monologues, his counterpart being the monosyllabic Lennie. Rodell is an actor of considerable talent and deserves to be recognised as such.
While as Lennie, Kristian Phillips portrays well the single-minded obsessiveness that leads to the man’s downfall, the danger of the menace that lurks beneath Lennie’s love of things soft could be emphasised more in the second half, as the action builds towards a searing climax. As the old-timer Candy who dreams of a home in which to spend his twilight years, Dudley Sutton (a familiar face to many from TV’s Lovejoy) provides a sympathetic contrast to the hard-core men on the ranch, all of whom have their problems. Dave Fishley is great in the cameo role of Crooks, the only black man employed; a role which portrays the prejudice of the era.
Essential to Steinbeck’s plotline is the way in which the ranchers struggle to avoid the temptation of their boss Curley’s young and attractive wife. Flipping the luxuriant locks which later lead her into disaster, and twirling her skirts. Curley’s wife – strangely, Steinbeck does not name her – appears to be provoking them into flirting with her when in fact she is simply desperate for “someone to talk to,” revealed in a moving scene in Act II as the play darkens towards a harrowing climax. Newcomer Saoirse-Monica Jackson gives an impassioned and moving portrayal of a vulnerable young woman stuck out on a ranch miles from anywhere with only rough men for company.
Played out against a set designed by Liz Ashcroft and consisting of wooden floor, sky and surrounding trussing which lends itself to variation as required in individual scenes, and clever lighting by Simon Bond, plus onstage music composed and provided by Nick Powell, this is a clever and gripping revival. One wishes that all touring productions were this good.
Runs until 7 May 2016 | Image: Contributed