Watermill - Of Mice and Men
10th May to 16th June 2012.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
The 1930s was a tough time in America. After the Wall Street crash came the Dust Bowl and mass migration to California. John Steinbeck chronicled this most famously in The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men looks at the problems of itinerant workers on the ranches.
This is a story of friendship, interdependence, dreams and morality. George and Lennie travel together. George is practical but crotchety, Lennie is simple, childlike, big and strong and unable to control his strength. George takes care of Lennie, and they have a shared dream of getting their own smallholding. Like an old married couple they bicker and squabble, but their relationship is propped up by an underlying love for each other.
As George and Lennie, Thomas Padden and David Ganly are completely convincing. George can see that it’s becoming impossible to control Lennie, but when it appears that their dream might become reality, a solution looks to be within his grasp, only to be dashed at the end. This was a powerful and compelling performance from Padden; subtle and not overstated. Ganly touchingly captured the innocence and anxiety of Lennie. The final scene between them was poignantly moving as George faces the difficult decision about what’s best for Lennie.
There was strong support from Ian Porter as Slim and Johnson Willis as Candy, although his accent was less convincing than the others’. Siobhan O’Kelly could have been a bit more flirty, as Curley’s wife.
The book is popular with teachers and students (not least because of its short length) and a large school contingent on press night brought the Watermill’s average audience age down considerably. This was a very enjoyable production that will appeal to all ages.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Reality and the American dream
Steinbeck's gritty tale of migrant workers in the depression at The Watermill
Of Mice and Men, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until June 16
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, set in the American economic depression of the 1930s, resonates with the current financial trouble we are facing today. Politicians are encouraging us to ‘get on our bikes’ and find work, and that was the case in this gritty, compelling story of two migrant workers, Lenny and George, drifting between farms trying to find work.
Director Douglas Rintour’s impeccable production conjures up the claustrophic atmosphere of the farm and the bunkhouse, strikingly designed by Hayley Grindle with corrugated iron panels and dramatically lit by Paul Anderson.
David Ganly perfectly captures the innocence of Lennie, who suffers from a mental disability. He’s a gentle giant of a man with the strength of three men and this causes problems when he accidently kills a mouse and a puppy he was petting. Tomas Padden gives a riveting performance as George, Lennie’s travelling companion who promised his aunt that he would look after him. They had to escape from the last town when Lennie touched a woman’s dress and wouldn’t let it go.
Both men have a dream of owning their own farm and keeping rabbits and eke out a living working on the land.
Among the rest of the ranch hands, old Candy (Johnson Willis), who lost his hand in an accident, is also desperate to leave the farm and has saved up some money and wants to go into partnership with George and Lennie. His constant companion is an ancient dog that Carlson (Carl Patrick) abhors and eventually shoots.
Tom Berish is splendid as the Boss’s hot-tempered son Curley. He is the typical bully and madly possessive of his new wife, a sassy performance from Siobhan O’Kelly who wants to be a movie star and constantly visits the bunkhouse and flirts with George.
By contrast, Slim, the “prince of the ranch” and team leader, sensitively played by Ian Porter, befriends George and they are able to share confidences. There are racial tensions with Crooks (Jeff Alexander) the black farmhand being segregated and living a lonely life in the barn surrounded by his books. Nicholas Hart plays the young enthusiastic farm hand Whit.
But plans are dashed when Lennie’s overpowering strength leads to disaster in a final dramatic, emotional and moving ending that leaves you in a state of disbelief and tugs at your heartstrings. Highly recommended.
There are reviews in Marlborough People ("perceptive and engaging performances... a startling story that should not be missed"), The Good Review ("highly recommended" - five stars), WhatsOnStage ("a beautifully subtle interpretation of Steinbeck’s classic and a memorable production" - four stars), the British Theatre Guide (the same review as the Newbury Weekly News one above), the Oxford Times ("hilarious production... as much corn, scriptwise, as might be found in a Carry On movie") and The Public Reviews ("a cast of characters that are convincing and thoroughly believable... highly recommended").