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Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck
Savoy
(2003)

John Steinbeck was the great novelist of the Depression and managed to get under the skins of his characters, as well as the million and one others, who had fallen on equally hard times.

Of Mice and Men tells the story of George and Lennie, a pair of hobos who are searching for The American Dream. It is soon clear that everyone else in the dramatised novel is doing the same and that it will prove elusive to all.

TV star Matthew Kelly plays Lennie, a gentle giant with a mental age of perhaps seven but the strength of a regiment. He would not deliberately hurt a fly but accidents can happen. His sidekick, George Costigan's George, touchingly looks after him like a brother.

When they hit a new town, trouble soon arrives in the shape of Curley (John Flitcroft), the boss's son and a really nasty piece of work. He is not cheered by being cuckolded by a blowsy wife, bored by him within a fortnight of their wedding.

Steinbeck explores violence and the way that it can be good as well as bad. His real subject is the depression and how poor men are downtrodden and can never escape their destiny.

Jonathan Church's production, which started life at Birmingham Rep two years ago, is beautifully lit by Tim Mitchell, especially at its poignant denouement and catches a feel for the era. Kelly and Costigan make a convincing and sympathetic pair and their inevitable end is truly sad.

Overall the production feels static. It begs the question as to why it should replace the novel with all of its texture and depth. In a society that likes star names and is happier spending two and three quarter hours in a theatre rather than a week or two on a book, the answer is self-evident.

For those who do not know Steinbeck's novel (or his work in general), this is a good introduction that had the opening night audience in raptures. Don't neglect the books though.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher