Poignant and powerful, OF MICE AND MEN is a timeless story about friendship, loyalty, compassion and holding on to your dreams

The cast of OF MICE AND MEN

Richard Keightley as George and Matthew Wynn as Lennie in OF MICE AND MEN. Photo: Scott Rylander

Poignant and powerful, OF MICE AND MEN is a timeless story about friendship, loyalty, compassion and holding on to your dreams

It’s been a while since I’ve read John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic OF MICE AND MEN but it’s always been a favourite of mine. Since studying the novella at GCSE, the American classic has long held a place in my heart so when Selladoor Productions announced a new touring production of OF MICE AND MEN, I was keen to see this powerful piece brought to life on stage.

Set in the 1930s during the era of the Great Depression, OF MICE AND MEN follows the unlikely friendship of George and Lennie, two migrant ranch workers who dream of owning their own ranch. In many ways, George and Lennie are polar opposites: George is slight in build, smart and quick whereas Lennie is large, very strong but with the emotional age of a child. With little more than their dream and the clothes on their back, the pair set out to work on a Californian ranch but their adventures don’t quite turn out as they hoped or planned.

Poignant, powerful and heartbreaking, OF MICE AND MEN is a timeless story about friendship, loyalty, compassion and holding on to your dreams. Steinbeck’s delicate and astute script explores the intricacies of human relationships, revealing not only our capacity of love but also for loneliness and human detachment.

Guy Unsworth slick production stays true to Steinbeck’s original text, faithfully retelling the story, as well as the prejudice that existed towards disability, race, women and animals during the time of the Great Depression. David Woodhead’s effective timber frame set, which is beautifully lit by Bretta Gerecke’s lighting design, reinforces the claustrophobia of a life where the men are penned together like cattle. Smaller structures are also effectively used, along with movement and music, to reflect the shifting hours in the story.

Those familiar with the story of OF MICE AND MEN will know that the relationship between George and Lennie is key to this piece. Here, Richard Keightley delivers a well-judged and balanced performance as George, the seemingly cantankerous and bitter man who, underneath cares enormously for Lennie.

The cast of OF MICE AND MEN

The cast of OF MICE AND MEN. Photo: Scott Rylander

Matthew Wynn equally convinces as the lumbering Lennie, capturing the man’s innocence with the lightest of facial expressions and hand gestures. While he occasionally overplays the repetitive dialogue, it’s impossible not to be affected by his simplicity and his climactic scene with Keightley’s George is both shocking and moving.

Elsewhere, there are fine some supporting performances from Andrew Boyer as Candy, the old man who feels threatened and useless due to his stump for a left hand. Cameron Robertson as Slim, Rosemary Boyle as Curley’s wife and Kevin Mathurin as Crooks are also equally strong.

Yet while the overall relaxed pace of the piece allows enough time and space for each character to grow, this production is very much a slow burner. The story only really comes to life after the interval and its overlong, meandering tone means the production never really finds the emotional heft it needs.

There’s also a smattering of American accents here and there that don’t quite hit the mark, and as such, a little of what is said is lost along the way.

That said, this is a thought-provoking and moving piece which has its heart in the right place. Steinbeck’s story also still has much to teach us about the human condition and about the bonds we develop.

3.5 out of 5 stars

OF MICE AND MEN runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 14 April 2018. Ticket prices start from £15.90.