Book: John Steinbeck
Music: Heather Christian
Director: Mark Rosenblatt
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Based on the book by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men is nearing its 80th birthday. A popular study on the GCSE syllabus, the story has been read and analyzed by many. Released to glowing reviews in 1937 when it hit bestseller lists around the country and subsequently winning numerous awards, Mark Rosenblatt’s new stage production has a lot to live up to. With music by Heather Christian (who also plays Curley’s wife), Rosenblatt approached the production without any prior conceptions, and as such, has created something Steinbeck would be proud of.
The insects sound in the brush, a light flickers yonder and dusk is slowly setting. A large pool of still, clear water lined with hardy waterside plants is at the front of the stage. A mist hangs in the air as Heather Christian makes her entrance; barefoot through the water. From the opening scene, she brings an Americana cross Celtic, and almost ethereal style of singing to the production. Interspersed throughout the play, her music is accompanied by an on stage band which helps to break up the story, setting this production apart from the rest.
Of Mice and Men follows the friendship of George and Lennie, as they move from ranch to ranch in search of work. Good, honest labour, for which they can save up enough of a stake to buy into the American Dream. To own their own piece of land with an orchard full of cherries, apples and peaches, a full and thriving vegetable patch, livestock, a little house and rabbits. Lots of rabbits, and plenty of alfalfa. They would be able to “live on the fatta the lan’”; their own land, and finally have the independence and freedom that makes the long hours spent bucking barley worthwhile. Set in the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the play is a stark reminder of something all too familiar, as many people today are still struggling to recover financially from the recession of recent times.
An organic set, one which adapts to the narrative with minimal fuss, is perfect for this production. It helps lead the story, and is accessible from every vantage point. A myriad of bulbs hang over the stage, illuminated as stars in the night sky. The vast, sweeping barley fields utilizes the space of the Quarry Theatre well, as the audience perception is of never ending rows of the cereal into the distance. Towering stacks of hay line the set, adding to the feeling of enormity. Not just in terms of the stage, but also for the narrative; that the world is far bigger than a couple of men striving to achieve a dream.
There is a clever use of puppets in the production. Candy’s dog is old, bow-legged and frail. Eyesight and hearing are leaving him, and with some fabric and wire, the audience suffer with this poor animal. Beautifully manipulated, the actors use their talents to mimic the smallest of traits, continued even when attention is elsewhere.
George is played by Henry Pettigrew, a demanding and exhausting rôle, but one that he never lets slip. Pettigrew makes the audience reassess their own compassion and loyalty, giving a performance that will stay with you, long after the final bows. George’s companion Lennie, is played by Dyfrig Morris. A slow, dim-witted character but full of heart, Morris is the quintessential Lennie the mind conjures up when reading the book. In the hands of Morris, Lennie’s final hallucinations become a masterpiece, as he wrestles with memory and conscience.
Sometimes just having a dream is enough to keep you going. One so powerful that you start to believe it, even see it. And when you have someone to share that with, it becomes all the more tangible. Of Mice and Men is a story of friendship and loneliness. How the need for company can be incredibly strong, but only ever partially satisfied. How sometimes, the hardest decisions have to be made for the good of another and the lengths to which a person must go to survive.
Rosenblatt’s Of Mice and Men is a stirring and heart-rending adaptation of the much loved novella, and one which comes very highly recommended.
Runs until: 29th March 2014