Theatre Royal Brighton
Tue 19 – Sat 23 Apr
Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm
By Andrew Collins
Last night saw a wonderfully staged production of John Steinbeck’s 1937 educational, controversial classic, Of Mice and Men, expertly directed by Roxana Silbert.
Steinbeck’s novel is set in the Great Depression era of the USA (late 1920s, early 30s). It’s a sympathetic and searing raw portrayal of working people and their plight at that time.
It drew on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a farm worker and the various characters he met. He consciously wrote it in a taut, theatrical style with limited locations and dialogue heavy scenes.
The story is centred around two wandering migrant ranch hands – George and Lennie (played by William Rodell and Kristian Phillips), the latter of whom is markedly retarded with a mental age of around six.
His condition often proves to be problematic through misunderstandings and his lack of self control. So much so, that the pair had to flee their last job for fear of being shot.
They make their way to another, distant ranch and new work, hopefully to put their past behind them.
George, like all the other itinerant workers, has a dream of one day owning his very own piece of land, farming his own crops, tending his own animals, beholden only to himself.
Lennie wants to share that dream, and obliges his friend to verbalise the fantasy again and again.
However, George is becoming exasperated and brow-beaten by the antics and trouble caused by his unfortunate companion, almost to the point of ditching him.
However, a promise made to Lennie’s aunt sees him stick by his side.
They soon reach the new ranch where they are welcomed as new ‘bindlestiffs’ – harvest workers. They are bunked in an outhouse with the other workers.
Boss Carlson (Neil McKinven) gives them a firm but fair pep talk and although suspicious of Lennie, lets them stay on to work.
The other farm hands are a mixed bunch – Slim (Jonah Russell), tall dark and handsome, Candy (Dudley Sutton), an endearing old hand with an even more endearing old dog, Whit (Nicholas Goode), an old fashioned red neck, Crooks (Dave Fishley), a semi-crippled black worker, and finally, the highly strung and confrontational Curley (Ben Stott), the boss’ troublesome son.
Even more troublesome is Curley’s wife (Saoirse-Monica Jackman) who is bored and trapped in her marriage so seeks solace and companionship, very dangerously, with the other men on the ranch.
The arrival of George and Lennie upsets this delicate balance, and events rapidly take a turn for the worse.
Of Mice and Men is a stirring, sagacious play with a brutally shocking ending.
The southern voices and accents are faultless, expertly trained by voice and dialect coaches Barbara Houseman and Charmian Hoare.
William Rodell and Kristian Phillips as the two leads are exemplary.
Saoirse-Monica Jackson makes her stage debut here with an empathic and solid performance. Dudley Sutton is a real treat as he quietly but confidently becomes part of Lennie and George’s plans.
Dave Fishley pitches it just right as the down trodden by wise cracking Crooks.
All the actors give highly believable and enjoyable performances to the backdrop of Liz Ashcroft’s inventive period sets.
A superb production of a much loved classic masterpiece.
Theatre Royal Brighton’s Spring season includes the American classic OF MICE AND MEN, which runs from Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 April.
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place…with us it ain’t like that.
We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.
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.
After a long and exhausting journey, the pair arrive at a farm in California where they seek work.
But they are no strangers to trouble and soon find themselves reeling from the fall out of an innocent misunderstanding which spirals out of control and leaves the two men, bound together by friendship, facing an earth shattering climax.
Cast includes Dudley Sutton (Lovejoy, Entertaining Mr Sloane, A Whistle in the Dark) as Candy.
Asked about the relevance of the play for modern audiences, Dudley commented:
It has so many extraordinary resonances. It’s about the haves and have-nots and the suppression of the people by the big agriculture companies.
This play is set in the late 20s and there were union strikes that had to be broken up with shotguns.
You got Woody Guthrie and all those great protest songs that came out of that time. It’s as relevant today as it ever was. It’s an intensely moral play in the best sense of the word”.
Commenting on his forthcoming appearance at Theatre Royal Brighton, Dudley commented: “Oh it’s wonderful! A beautiful theatre. One of the old-fashioned ones and absolutely lovely.”
0844 871 7650*
(booking fee applies)