Writer: John Steinbeck
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: Matthew Bagnall
Of Mice and Men needs little introduction to many of us. A classic in its own right that depicts themes of aspiration, desire and friendship that intertwine to create both a heart-warming and emotionally devastating piece of literature. Roxana Silbert at the Birmingham REP has again erected this unique adaptation in partnership with The Touring Consortium following a hugely successful run in 2014.
George and Lennie are searching for their dream – their American Dream – along with all the other characters in the play and many others in the United States. Published in 1937, Of Mice and Men draws many parallels to John Steinbeck’s life before and after the crash and the consequential ‘Great Depression’ that struck America afterwards. His desire for a better life found him taking on labouring jobs in ranches in California before becoming an established and recognised writer. These initial struggles are seemingly the inspiration for the setting of this piece.
George and Lennie have a camaraderie that resembles that of childhood siblings. Despite consistently berating Lennie for regularly getting the pair into difficulties, deep down there are affectionate values to George that motivate him to share his American Dream with Lennie. Due to Lennie’s actions, the pair find themselves desperate for more work in order to raise enough money to fulfil their ambitions of having their own ranch. George finds himself keeping a careful eye on Lennie and just as the ambition seems to be developing substance, tragedy strikes.
William Rodell as George is very committed to finding the balance between a determined and authoritative leader and a compassionate friend to Lennie. He achieves this with great success, drawing the audience in to the character’s everlasting struggles and the horrendous dilemma he faces at the end.
Kristian Phillips portrays Lennie as the innocent and caring figure that we all know he really is. His ability to force an emotional response to his own struggles while providing a touch of comedy is highly effective. His subservience to George’s demands and his resulting awkwardness with some of the other characters is certainly believable.
The character of Candy radiates empathy and admiration. His dedication to his dog Arthur (Who is greeted by a reaction you’d witness at Crufts when he first enters) along with his compassion for all the other characters marks huge respect. Dudley Sutton in the role conveys these personable attributes very well, bringing a sense of fragility and sensitivity that you’d expect from such a character.
The remainder of the cast are solid and accurately represent the tensions that are so evidently clear within the ranch.
The set is strikingly detailed by Liz Ascroft and attracts an immediate engagement as you enter the auditorium. The size of some of the scenery resembles those of a commercial production – perhaps a reason why it will tour such venues later in its run. The decision to show the cast on stage in the open wings is an intriguing approach and makes the scenes busier.
The sound design by Nick Powell is beautifully periodic and appropriate for the Californian location. A combination of expertly chosen sound effects with live acoustic music complements the writing. The choreographed scene changes are both visually appealing from a movement perspective but also add to the acoustic sound effects which add to the overall effectiveness from a technical viewpoint.
Of Mice and Men is a classic story that is likely to attract an emotional interest from many. Its themes are explored in the school syllabus for their powerful, relatable and historical value. This production certainly doesn’t disappoint in highlighting these.
Runs until 13 February 2016 | Image: Ellie Kurttz