Adapted in 1937, by Nobel prize–winning author John Steinbeck from his novella written the same year, this wonderful play tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced ranch workers in California, searching for a job during the Great Depression. The title comes from Robert Burns perhaps most used quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”
You know from the start that this complementary friendship between the intelligent but uneducated George and the gentle, developmentally challenged giant, Lennie is headed inexorably toward disaster. (The term ‘politically correct’ was not invented in 1937 and Steinbecks’ novella attracted a lot of criticism for using words like “Dumb” and Nigger!).
Dread and trepidation accompanied me as I took my seat last night in the Reginald Theatre down the stairs at the Selmour Centre. The idea of not controlling our destiny was echoed again in the program note about, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
The moment we stepped into the theatre space we saw a very natural relaxed character playing slide guitar blues in the style of a panhandler straight out of the great depression. Then the unlikely pair of road travellers, George and Lennie, enter and put us at ease naturally with nicely crafted characters, regular humour and warmth that transported us with them to the promised land of the farm up ahead and the possibility of their own little ‘passle’ of land, a safe haven where Lennie can stay out of trouble and George can relax.
The stage then erupts with raucous farm hands transforming the space into the bunkhouse to the accompaniment of that natural guitar again and we know that we’re in good hands- but it’s gonna be a bumpy ride to drama and pain!
The cast are superb in every role. Andrew Henry delivers a sensitive characterisation of Lennie, a role which it would be so easy to overplay and lose empathy. Anthony Gooley is a wonderful, caring George. (I saw those tears at the end.)
Anna Houston was captivating as Curley’s plaintive desperate wife. Andre de Vanny played Curly, a villain to hate and Christopher Stollery played Slim, a solid support for George when needed.
John McNeil, Laurence Coy, Terry Serio, Charles Allen and Tom Stokes were all splendid and natural in character and performance. I make no apologies for reusing the word ‘natural’ to describe everything about this outstanding production.
We saw a simple but effective design from Michael Hankin, (I loved his design of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), enhanced by the lighting design from Sian James Holland and Nate Edmondson.
Iain Sinclair’s direction elevated this classic script to unusual heights, the use of naturally occurring sound in the background created atmosphere, and the audience’s commitment was palpable. I heard sighs and gasps at all the right times.
The last scene led to nearly half a minute of stunned silence, then the rapturous applause exploded. Then we all trooped out, moved but satisfied .. naturally.
A Sport for Jove production, Jon Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN is playing the Reginald theatre at the Seymour Centre until the 1st August.