Did you read Of Mice and Men at school? I didn’t, but my first boyfriend did, he was a bit older than me and had already left school at 16. He told me it was one of the few books he had enjoyed, so I decided it must be worth a read. I remember devouring it, I was ill at the time with tonsillitis, my fevered state and rapid page turning meant I couldn’t remember much of the story when I sat down at the Theatre Royal to watch Theatre Cloud’s production of Of Mice and Men on Tuesday. But I knew the book had really moved me before, and I hoped the play would stand up to that.
Set in America during the Great Depression, this classic play tells the story of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers, who go in search of new beginnings, in the hope of attaining their shared dream: of putting together enough money to buy a small piece of land and building a home.
I was really captivated by the story unfolding, Kristian Phillips and William Rodell, the actors playing George and Lennie had clearly spent a lot of time physically and vocally creating a sense of their history and relationship and the humour and tension that comes with it. Lennie’s learning difficulties are never defined, as they perhaps wouldn’t have been when the book was written, but the play, like the book makes us consider how we label and treat people, and the consequences of that.
The physicality and presence of all the characters was daringly bold and striking. From the unnerving jerkiness of Curly to the stature and cowboy cool of Slim, to the feisty, frustrated wannabe starlet Curly’s Wife (this character not having a name speaks volumes about the myriad of issues this story raises about the role of women) to the slow and thoughtful Candy, who we placed in the interval as Dudley Sutton, aka Tinker Dill from Lovejoy. Apart from being really compelling to watch, for those studying the book, these larger than life characters come absolutely flying off the page.
Watching it unfold at the Theatre Royal was like a little window back into my teenage years – lying there with killer tonsillitis, but with the fear of missing out long gone – just hooked in an amazing and timeless story about humanity.
Brechtian influences are clear in this production, they help us analyse the characters and events as they unfold. The characters are stylised, backstage is visible, set changes are stylised too and set to music, which gave me a sense of the migrationary movement and frustrations of the time.
The accents wavered at times, I wasn’t sure if this was a thing or not, but the flashes of (to my ear anyway) Scots, Irish and English that I caught did sort of remind me that this story is quite timeless and placeless in it’s messages about migrant workers moving across the world to find work.
This is a story where having a real dog on stage is pretty hard to avoid, but I do think animals, purely because they aren’t human, interfere with my ability to suspend my disbelief the minute they appear on stage. The local dog who played the role was so well behaved and just beautiful, but not mucky and scraggy enough to really convince us he was at death’s door. But I am not sure if there are rules about making dogs wear mud and make up on stage?
I loved the haunting music, the stunning lighting and the towering set which combined to conjure the feeling of vastness and the falling light across a Californian ranch beautifully. Maybe I am getting old, but I would have dearly liked a little more of that haunting music and falling light to give me some time to process the ending. Without introducing any spoilers, the jump straight to curtain call from the ending was too much for me.
Overall though, I was hooked throughout, spellbound by the bold characterisation and loved watching the story unfold, having seen Jane Eyre last month I have a new found love for seeing books brought to life on stage. What an amazing thing to see with young people studying the book too, there were lots of parents with teenagers in the audience. If you hold this book dear, or someone in your life is just discovering it, absolutely go and experience the magic of this classic coming to life.
I went with Emily from A Mummy Too, so it was also a much needed Mum’s night out. Over drinks afterwards it was great to realise we had both studied English with bits of Drama and that in our time we’ve both clocked up lots of theatre, it’s always great to find theatre lovers among your friends. On an absolutely banal, non intelligent theatre review level, Emily got asked for ID in the bar which reduced us to giggling like 16 year olds, and cowboys do make for a great girl’s night out.
I have been absolutely loving going to see much more theatre, after Hetty Feather brought me to tears I swore I would see lots more – it was like my soul knew just what it needed more of.
Theatre Cloud have loads of great blog posts, info, videos and learning resources for anyone studying the book, check them out here. And also find out more about the tour.
Of Mice and Men until Saturday 5th at Theatre Royal, Nottingham and touring after that.