Review: Of Mice and Men, Nottingham Playhouse, by Alan Geary
Written in 1937, the tragic tale of two itinerant farm workers in depression-era California is a great American book, a small masterpiece. Probably because John Steinbeck had a play in mind when he wrote it and he himself adapted it for the stage, it also makes a fine play.
This splendid Nottingham Playhouse production, directed by Giles Croft, retains all the power and strong narrative thrust of the original novel. And all the crucial themes are present: the loneliness, the hopeless dreams, the essential animal-like nature of human-beings, and so on.
There's Candy (Robin Bowerman in an admirable performance), utterly friendless once his stinking dog's been shot; there's poor Crooks (Jim Findley), who has to bed down separately from the other ranch hands because he's black; there's Curley's wife (Bridie Higson), stuck in a useless marriage, who simply wants someone to talk to. You just know her pathetic dreams of making it big in pictures will come to naught.
More centrally of course, it's clear from the start that Lennie and George, and later on Candy, are never going to own that piece of land, with the house with the big stove, the alfalfa and the rabbits.
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Lennie and George (Daniel Hoffmann-Gill and John Elkington) are beautifully played. Given their physical contrast there's a faint suggestion of the Laurel and Hardy about them, but without the comedy. It's a powerful portrayal of tender love and dependence between men, the non-erotic sort that can be forged in common travail. When they drink from the stream they're like animals; and when Lennie meets his end he's being put to sleep like Candy's dog – this is of mice and men.
The whole thing adds up to a more than pleasing production. It's an effectively sparse set; there's some super period country background music – it might be Woody Guthrie – and courageous use of period idiom. And the sound of cracking bones when Lennie wastes Curley's hand goes right through the audience and causes a collective wince.
But you leave the play feeling intense pity, not just for Lennie and George but for all humanity.
Of Mice and Men is at Nottingham Playhouse till Saturday, 17th November