mice and men head

Kristian Phillips as Lennie and William Rodell as George. Pictures: Ellie Kurttz

Of Mice and Men

Birmingham Rep

****

STEINBECK is famous for creating gloriously deep and fascinating characters and challenging ideals.

During the great depression, the American dream was still prevalent and in his 1937 novel, at the heart of the financial travesty, the American dream was stronger than ever for George and Lenny.

Their dream, much like everyone else’s, is to get enough money to buy their own patch of land so they can stop working on other people’s farms and be their own boss.

The translation from page to stage was executed so well that it was hard to think that the original text was not a script in the first place.

Director Roxanna Silbert, the Rep’s artistic director, brilliantly captured the essence of the struggle of work and money. With Liz Ascroft’s rural and woody set design, Steinbeck’s bleak description of time and place was effortlessly visualised

Interestingly, the wings are stripped back for the audience to see the cast always in the background, creating the effects of music and sound that Steinbeck is famous for describing. It is an interesting concept, showing that all have their place to create a workforce of their own.

Steinbeck warns us that all dreams are hard to come by and that people are there to challenge what we want. Lennie, although big in stature, has the mind of a child. curlyThe audience can see that Lennie’s heart is as big as his body. He wants to pet the things he is drawn towards, like a mouse or small puppy.

He is played by the wonderful Kristian Phillips and his delivery of the child-like nature of the character only adds to the gut-wrenching tragedy we witness at the climax of the play, driven by ignorance and awful luck.

Phillips shows Lennie’s innocence and his fascination with textures and ‘pretty things’, although the reason they find themselves having to beg for new work is because of his fascination for a pretty woman’s hair.

It is not his fault that we witness tragedy at the end of the play, but in other ways it is. In a gripping scene with Curly’s wife, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, it is inevitable that the story must end in the way it does.

Dudley Sutton as Curly with Arthur in the backround

George acts as Lennie’s guardian, doing all that a father would do. When conflicts ensue on the farm, George is the first to defend Lennie. At the start of the play, George explains how better life would be without having to look after him, but his hypothetical blasts of anger are soon to be reality.

William Rodell takes control of the streetwise George with a courageous charm. He is strong in every way and is the source of the emotional tragedy we feel at the end. Rodell carries the story effortlessly and the role is a testament to Steinbeck’s profound characterisation

This story is about the futility of the American Dream. Most have given up on their hopes and find it absurd that Lennie and George still have theirs. Silbert makes sure to highlight each and every character’s story, staying close to Steinbeck’s political thoughts of the time.

Candy, played by Dudley Sutton, (Charlie in Lovejoy) is an old farm worker and only has his dog, played by Arthur, who’s owned by the Rep’s theatre manager, as his only solace. One of the most touching moments was when the dog had to be shot, because of his age. 

When the audience hear the fateful shot, Sutton, without saying a word, turned over on his bed and simply put a hand over his face. The audience were touched by his understated, and yet greatly effective delivery at the moment of loss. Another great performance was shown in Jonah Russell’s portrayal of the understanding manager, Slim.

The story is powerful, completely shocking and above all, gut-wrenchingly tragic. Silbert’s commentary on Steinbeck’s novel is the reason why this is the play’s second run at the Rep. Filled with irony and sadness, the story makes us think about the horrors of humanity, and allows us to be thankful for how much society has developed since Steinbeck first introduced George and Lenny to the world. To  13-02-16.

Elizabeth Halpin

09-02-16

After the Rep Of Mice of Men goes on tour and visits Wolverhampton Grand 8-12 March 

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