Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is at The King’s Theatre this week, and this stage version directed by Roxana Silbert brings to life the characters in this classic story. John Steinbeck himself made this work perfect for adaptation to the stage with an emphasis on dialogue, minimal settings and a ranch where even the animals are only referred to but never seen.
The production designers (sets, lighting, sounds, costume) have given this production a great impression of what road and ranch life for an itinerant “bindlestiff” (Steinbeck was one himself once) must have been like.
Of Mice and Men (published 1937) is a story of the underclass and the dispossessed in America at the time of The Great Depression, and Steinbeck gives these people a voice when others did not want to listen to their plight. The story also raises the ugly face of racial segregation and prejudice as we meet the only black ranch hand working there who lives in his own small room because he is not allowed (or wanted) to sleep in the main bunk house with the white workers. Dave Fishley as Crooks gives us a performance of an obviously clever and literate man who by virtue of his colour alone must be content to take the lowest place in his society. Crooks of all the men is the only one who has any real insight into why George and Lennie travel together – the simple human need for companionship and to hear another human voice.
This story of course centres around two characters, George (William Rodell) and Lennie (Kristian Phillips). George does care for Lennie and is protective of him, but Lennie has enormous strength and the intellectual and reasoning capabilities of a small child, and that brings with it many problems.
Both William and Kristian give powerful performances as Steinbeck’s wonderful dialogue lets them both explore the relationship between the two of them, but it is always somehow Lennie who is going to steal the show here and to an extent Kristian does that with a well balanced performance of an adult whom we would now class as “special needs”, but at the same time giving his character an almost childlike innocence quality.
There are no weak links in this production as all the cast seem to fit their characters so well, but central to the story are old ranch hand Candy (Dudley Sutton) and his old dog Tara, Slim (Jonah Russell), Curley the Ranch Boss’s son (Ben Stott) and the pivotal character working her way all through this story line Curley’s wife – we never do get told her name. Saoirse-Monica Jackson plays the young, newly married and quickly bored wife who is having a hugely disruptive influence on the ranch hands wonderfully.
It’s some 40 years since I read this story for the first time and the events that lead to the ending of this story that are so well handled in this production I have never forgotten. If you know the story then you know what is going to happen, but if you don’t then I am not going to spoil your trip to the theatre...just go along if you have the time, this is just a great story, great dialogue and a great piece of theatre.
Review by Tom King