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Of Mice and Men
25th April 2023 - 29th April 2023
“I got you, and we got each other”
George and Lennie are migrants with a dream; a dream of a better life, a place where they can belong, where Lennie feels safe and George can be somebody. But this is the Great Depression, not many dreams come true in a time where a few have plenty but most have nothing. When the friends take a job on Curley’s farm, tragedy unfolds leading to a heart-breaking decision.
John Steinbeck’s classic novel is more than 80 years old, but with themes of economic migration, racism, prejudice and exclusion it remains a parable for our times.
A story of enduring friendship, this new production from Rep Associate Director and Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony Director, Iqbal Khan, puts a 2023 lens on Steinbeck’s affecting tale of the crumbling American dream.
Post-Show Talk – Thursday 27th April, 2pm, FREE ADMISSION to ticket holders.
AD Audio Described Performance – Thursday 27th April, 2pm*
There will be a touch tour prior to the matinee on Thursday 27th April*
*Advance booking is essential as spaces are limited for the Audio Description and Touch Tour. To book or for more information please contact email@example.com (01684 580956).
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (including interval)
Photo credit: Kris Askey
Superb production, don’t miss it.
Stellar performances all round by a very accomplished cast. I can’t recommend this production highly enough. Captivates the audience from first words to the final gripping scene. Don’t miss it.
Brilliant- well worth seeing. Very moving production.
View from the Stalls - Pete Phillips
Impressive staging and casting of the classic Steinbeck story
It's a relatively short trip from their home base for the company putting on John Steinbeck's classic 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men. For this is a Birmingham Rep production (along with Leeds Playhouse) and is one which embraces an all-inclusive approach to casting.
On a stage which is made up of horizontal and vertical planks of wood representing the barns where the action takes place, this is a story about the Great American Depression in California. More specifically, it is about two people - migrant workers - looking out for each other in a poisonous dog-eat-dog environment of self-survival. George looks after Lennie whilst Lennie antagonises the hell out of George. George is erstwhile father and brother to Lennie. Lennie is big in stature but low in social skills. He has a gentle nature, always wanting to pet animals (mice, rabbits, puppies…), but this, allied to his physical strength is also his major weakness. As a result, he has a tendency to innocently kill things. Played by Wiliam Young, who himself suffers from agenesis of the corpus callosum and has complex learning difficulties, he comes across as a character the audience can sympathise with, much in the same way as his buddy George (Tom McCall) does, always on his side and, knowing his propensity for getting into scrapes, always protects him. Wiliam is one of three actors in the show with disabilities which enable them to bring a "lived experience" to their parts. The fact that they all appear in a show of this length is testament to their acting abilities.
Dogs feature largely in the story, one in particular. The scruffiest mutt you have ever seen, on his last legs, is brilliantly controlled by a puppeteer (Jake Benson) - indeed, whenever the dog was on stage, all eyes were on him and how his "handler" effectively becomes invisible, whilst replicating his movements and sounds.
Remembering that this is a play about a certain era in American history, the language and attitudes reflect that and have thankfully not been "updated" for a modern audience. Women and blacks are definitely in a minority (only one of each in the play) and are a downtrodden minority at that, with Maddy Hill playing the part of the wife of the boss's son Curley (no name, just "wife") being seen as some kind of Jezebel simply for wanting to have a conversation with different men and Crooks (Reese Pantry) reluctant to let anyone into his lodgings where he is forced, as a black man, to live on his own.
It is fair to say that you have to pay attention to be able to hear all of the script - Wiliam naturally is soft-spoken and Lee Ravitz, who plays old man (and dog owner) Candy - certainly hurls out his words at a pace, but none of the cast lose your attention. The relatively diminutive Tom McCall as George is an excellent foil to Lennie and his behaviour, always complaining that he would have a better life without him but never once considers leaving him behind as an option. Whatever happens, they would be inseparable forever. Wouldn't they?
At the curtain call, Tom helps Wiliam to his feet and hugs him - a lovely touch to show a job well done.
You can, of course, choose to view the play as having many parallels with modern life - social inequality, cost of living crisis, countries increasingly at war, poverty - but viewed solely as a portrayal of the desperate situation many people found themselves back in 1930's America, this show, directed by Iqbal Khan (Artistic Director of the 2022 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony no less!) does a very good job indeed.
British Theatre Guide - Rachael Duggan
Ashamed as I am to say it, I'm relatively new to Steinbeck's classic story of friendship and ambition. It wasn't a chosen text at my school, and I only very recently saw the 1992 film Gary Sinise film version—in fact at the request of my teenage son who'd found the story captivating. So much so, that he was even keen to accompany me to review the production. I'm a cool mum, right?
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression of the 1930s, we first encounter the sweet, albeit inequitable friendship of migrant workers Lennie and George. For his part, George (Tom McCall) is visibly torn between the innate need to protect his childlike friend at all costs and the possible consequences. All the while, Lennie (Wiliam Young) looks up to him—figuratively speaking—with complete trust and adoration. They have a dream of a little patch of land of their own, barely out of reach, and it's this which keeps them going, no matter how backbreaking the work that's their ultimate route out of there. Instead, what lies ahead is impending and inescapable tragedy, and a crumbling dream as they attempt to settle in on loose cannon Curley's farm.
I was particularly struck by the inclusivity of the director Iqbal Khan's casting of actors with lived experience. I found myself enthralled by the elderly Candy (Lee Ravitz) who never missed a beat, completely embodying all the pain and loneliness of all he's endured to that point—and nailing the accent in every syllable.
Towering Wiliam Young's Lennie is adorable, and you're immediately drawn into the physicality he brings to the role—rooted in his own personal experiences of learning disability—while navigating the prejudice and misunderstanding of 80 years' previous. Meanwhile, an unsettling menace lurks just beneath the surface of Tom McCall's George—he's a mass of contradictions—and you're never quite sure if it's the spark that will ignite the tinderbox of the uneasy relationships on the farm.
A shout out also to Candy's poor old dog (depicted by puppeteer Jake Benson), who almost sent me running off out of the auditorium to hastily adopt another rescue dog. It wasn't a stretch for the audience to suspend its disbelief and imagine the bag of rags on sticks as a wheezy old hound stinking up the place. My only thought was that he was a little bit of a distraction downstage right, and I found myself drifting from the action happening further upstage. This may, of course, have been entirely intentional and I immediately felt guilty when he met his untimely end.
Ciaran Bagnall's stark staging is simple but effective as chinks of light filter through the dark boards of the ranch's bunk room, while the Ensemble deliver evocative, bluesy folk melodies that would make the hardest cowboy shed a tear, courtesy of composer and sound designer Elizabeth Purnell.
My son and I celebrated the shattered American Dream on the way home in the most fitting way we could: with a post-theatre trip to the golden arches of course. I hope Lennie wouldn't have minded.
Behind the Arras
Steinbeck’s famous novella derives its title – Of Mice and Men – from a poem by Robert Burns that says in simple terms that the ‘best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’. The worthy dreams and plans of George and Lennie are typically and sadly lost and miscarry in the midst of the Great Depression in the USA in the early twentieth century.
George and Lennie typify a large underclass of farm labourers who move from farm to farm, seeking work and eking out a hard and meagre existence in economically desperate times.
Where George and Lennie are unusual is that most of these labourers are loners, devoid of family and indeed close friends. George and Lennie have a strong bond and stick together – in a strange way they both need each other, although Lennie, physically huge and strong but mentally challenged, relies on George in particular to lead him out of successive calamities.
The novella, and this production, explore the themes of the great American Dream and its emptiness, and the loneliness of many of the characters in this hard and depressing world.
As this production opens we are presented with a clever but harsh set: the angular, hard, wooden beams and joists and the restricted lighting set a demoralising tone into which the two are plunged.
George does his utmost to protect Lennie from his vulnerability and inability to manage his great physical strength. However, these vulnerabilities land them in repeated crises.
Tom McCall plays George very strongly and convincingly. At times he toys with Lennie, sometimes soothes, sometimes manipulates him, ultimately tries to manage and control the uncontrollable. His frustration is balanced by his empathy. An excellent performance.
Lennie played by William Young is a pathetic character, still child-like in so many mannerisms and character. He cannot resist petting the soft things in his world, but then so easily panics and cannot control his unnatural physical strength. His occasional rocking was very effective.
The remaining roles are well characterised. Slim, the well-respected team leader, is performed with total conviction by Simon Darwen. Reece Pantry plays the disabled Crooks, Riad Richie as Curley and Maddy Hill as his lonely and frustrated wife, Lee Ravitz as the aged and pitiable Candy whose dog has to be put down, all perform well.
At times the accents varied and clarity of diction sometimes made hearing challenging, but this was a faithful and solid interpretation of a sad tale, a depiction of a harsh, amoral and depressing world where hope is focused on impractical dreams that will never be realised.
A joy, but the horror of the inevitable tragic ending was destroyed for me by the actors leaping up too soon, while we are absorbing what George had to do, likewise the speed of Curley's wife's death was deeply unrealistic. Loved the rest 'tho'! Steph Noble