Of Mice and Men

"For any fan of Steinbeck's work, this is a must"

Having been a staple GCSE text for many a student, Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck and now under the direction of Iqbal Khan, graces the stage of the Birmingham REP.

The story is based on the experiences of Lennie Small (Wiliam Young) and George Milton (Tom McCall) who are searching for work with the dream of one day having their own piece of land with a multitude of animals, including rabbits, a particular favourite of Lennie as he loves nothing more than petting soft animals, however due to his towering physique, he does not have a soft touch which leads to devastating consequences.  The character of Lennie is very complex.  He has quite severe learning difficulties and is portrayed in childlike form.  Young plays this role incredibly well with an innocence that makes you instantly warm to him.  McCall plays George, who is incredibly fond of Lennie and acts as his protector throughout the story with a warmth and an equal sense of frustration of having to deal with Lennie daily.  Both performers have the lion share of dialogue and really capture a loving, caring relationship.  George has Lennie’s back in all situations after they had to flee from an accusation of rape after Lennie grabbed a girl’s dress and would not let go. 

The opening of the play echoed this situation with a large piece of red fabric being floated around the stage, the colour of the girls’ dress, as we later found out.  Everything about the set, designed by Ciaran Bagnall is very minimal, yet very effective. With wooden structures standing high around the stage, your eyes are drawn straight into the middle of the stage. You could almost smell the farmland surroundings with a clever use of warm, ambient lighting, also by Ciaran Bagnall.

After finding work on a farm, George and Lennie meet the rest of the workers, who are somewhat wary of Lennie due to his reluctance to speak, under the direction of George, and his size.   The farm is run by ‘The Boss’ (James Clyde) together with his son Curley (Riad Richie) who lives with his wife (Maddy Hill).  Curley is an obnoxious character and instantly gets off on the wrong foot with Lennie, resulting in a hand injury due to the strength Lennie has.

The only worker who cements a friendship with Lennie and George is Candy (Lee Ravitz) who offers them $350 towards their farm dream, as long as he could join them with his faithful dog.  The dog is portrayed in puppet form, worked by puppeteer Jake Benson. The dog, of senior years is a faithful companion to Candy, however the other workers are not so fond of him and his smell so take matters in to their own hands to end his life.  Puppet director, designer and maker Michael Crouch really does a wonderful job with the dog, encapsulating his scrawny, flea-bitten form.  Coupled with the way he is lead around the stage by Benson, the dog is very much lifelike.

There is a lot to take in during act 1 and I did feel that some of the scenes could have been slightly condensed.  The sound from some of the performers fell flat a few times for me too, missing words which felt integral to the story. 

The pace of the story picks up during act 2 and due to another show of strength from Lennie, Curley’s wife (Maddy Hill) finds herself being killed.  Obviously, the rest of the workers realise who was to blame and disappear off on a man hunt with Curley being the instigator.  George realises what he has to do and I’m sure it’s no spoiler to say that he is faced with ending Lennie’s life for his own protection.  This scene is extremely powerful between the pair and closes the show to dramatic effect.

Overall, the story is portrayed with gravitas on stage by all performers, however for me, some scenes lost a bit of pace and did not keep me captivated throughout.  For any fan of Steinbeck’s work though, this is a must.

This show was reviewed on the 23rd March 2023.  It runs at the Birmingham REP until the 8th April 2023. Tickets available here: Of Mice & Men | Birmingham Rep (birmingham-rep.co.uk)

Photo credit: Mark Senior & Ciaran Bagnall

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