Lenny and George

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

Of Mice and Men

The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

WHEN John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men premiered on Broadway in 1937, it was hailed by The New York Times as ‘the quintessence of commercial theatre’.

Some 80 years on, that claim is now probably better suited to the big budget musicals that dominate the West End and prove the biggest sellers on tour.

There can be little doubt, however, that this beautifully crafted play has stood the test of time and remains as important and relevant as it ever was.

Theatre Consortium and Birmingham Rep combine to bring a fresh but loyal revival that makes some bold choices, particularly design wise.

Liz Ascroft has created a wide open set that uses every inch of the space. Gone are the conventional curtain blacks in each wing that would ordinarily define the acting area.

Here we see actors sitting in the wings, in character but not in the scene. Some play instruments to underscore dialogue or to fill scene changes. The result is a smooth flow of action and narrative that works well, once the audience has accepted the slightly unconventional approach.

Key to the story is the bond between the itinerant farm workers, George and Lenny. Steinbeck takes time to set up their relationship in an economically structured first scene. Lenny, the well-meaning gentle giant whose confused understanding of love ultimately ends in tragedy and George, his protector who can only defend his pal’s failings for so long.

William Rodell brings warmth and swagger to George. A man who has a genuine love for his friend but ultimately knows he can't protect him forever.

Kristian Phillips avoids over playing Lennie. Ultimately, here is a man who simply wants to love. His vision of the world is clearly simpler than those around him but he is no way stupid. Phillips gives Lennie real empathy and highlights well a man with a huge heart and a confused mind.

Strong performances too from Dave Fishley as Crooks, Jonah Russell as Slim and Saoirise – Monica Jackson as Curley’s wife.

Using a real animal is inevitably a gamble in any production. It pays off well here though, thanks to a very obedient performance by Tilly, the dog. Nicely handled too by the always impressive Dudley Sutton as Candy.

Overall, an engaging, atmospheric version of a masterful piece of writing . It may no longer be the quintessence of commercial theatre but it loses none of its power and deserves full attention. Runs until Saturday March 12th

Tom Roberts

08-03-16 

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