There are plays that are enjoyable, there are plays that make you laugh and cry and then there are plays that become benchmarks by which you judge the quality of theatre in general. Some productions are destined to be looked back upon as milestones by theatre lovers because they leave an indelible impression on the memory. Jonathan Church’s production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is one such production!
The story concentrates on migrant workers in the farmlands of Northern California in the 1930s. These migrant workers were solitary and often desperate men, like tumble weed they would drift from place to place without roots. They would dream of owning a piece of land whilst drowning their sorrows and hard earned cash at the local cathouse.
The story concentrates on two migrant workers, George and Lennie. George and Lennie are an unlikely pair, George is shrewd and faces life with fortitude whilst Lennie is feeble-minded and full of child-like innocence. George is short and stocky whilst Lennie is a huge awkward bear of a man. What keeps these men together is their desperate need of each other. For Lennie that need is physical, on his own he simply could not possibly survive in the harsh world of Northern California, for George the need is for companionship in a world where affection and friendship are not readily available.
Lennie loves ‘to pet nice things’, but is unaware of his own strength or of the delicacy of the things he likes to pet. Lennie was in trouble in the last town he worked as a farm hand because of his love of ‘petting nice things’ and it is only because of George’s protective care that he narrowly escaped jail or worse. Can George continue to protect Lennie from the consequences of his actions in the new town they have fled to?
What makes this play so pungent is Steinbeck’s ability to capture those on the periphery of society. Lennie is not the only outsider in the play, there is the black stable hand Crook, who sleeps in the barn unable to mix freely with the other farm hands, Candy the elderly farm-hand who has to witness his arthritic old dog being shot and fears for his own fate when he too becomes unable to work, and the ranch’s only woman who has her own tortured history and longs for company. Each of these marginalised characters open up to Lennie, each want someone to listen to them and hear their pain, anger and frustration. Their need to communicate is so strong that it does not matter to them that Lennie is incapable of comprehending them, at least there is someone to speak at, if not to!
What prospect is there for the weak and vulnerable in a community where trust and friendship remain commodities that never have the opportunity to grow and flourish? What Steinbeck so powerfully portrays in this heart-wrenching story is that not only can men not live without hope they cannot die in dignity without it.
Matthew Kelly as Lennie and George Costigan as George both give phenomenal performances. Kelly depicts perfectly the out-and-out vulnerability of his character Lennie; he jumps about with child-like excitement, but also the fear and frustration of never quite understanding the world around him. His tongue lolls and his fingers quiver with fear and uncertainty as he struggles with the frustration of yet again disappointing his only friend, George. Costigan captures George’s exasperation, and yet paternal protection for his friend Lennie. The relationship between these two men grips your heart and then crushes it as their friendship reaches its poignant end.
It is not only the two leading actors who give impressive performances, the remainder of the cast are equally impressive, especially David Sterne as Candy and Joanne Mosley as the boss’s son’s wretched wife.
This is a production that deserves to win every award that can be thrown at it!
Notices from the popular press....
RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says Matthew Kelly "gives poignant performance in Steinbeck classic". MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Fine production." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Good production."
External links to full reviews from newspapers