Of Mice and Men: A Literary Classic comes to Life – New Wimbledon Theatre Review

Published by Daniel Bennifer on March 20, 2018 2:00 pm
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John Steinbeck’s literary classic leaps off the page and onto the stage in this bold new production at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

From the producers behind Avenue Q and The Crucible comes a bold new production of John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men at the New Wimbledon Theatre. Far from a modern retelling of the landmark play, this new production is a faithful adaptation of the source material – telling us what it truly means to be human.

Steinbeck’s literary classic focuses on a difficult period in America’s history, set during the trying times of the Great Depression, and told through the eyes of two migrant ranch workers, George and Lennie. It remains more than eighty years after its publication, a moving story of hope, friendship, and the American dream.

However, it is also nonetheless as controversial and divisive than ever. The play, from the Nobel Prize winner, has a lot to say about the harsh realities of the time at which it is set – when racism was wife and brutality and misogyny was a daily occurrence. Having survived numerous banning attempts, Steinbeck’s novella remains an important piece of work that highlights the inherent injustices of the past and how much work remains to be done.

Richard Keightley and Matthew Wynn in Of Mice and Men at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Guy Unsworth, in his director’s notes, expands on this: “It is crucial that we view the story in its original time and location to demonstrate how far today’s world has moved on in 85 years, but, more significantly perhaps, to question how far we’ve still to go.”

“To remove those elements would render the play inauthentic to its time” the director adds. And Unsworth is correct in his statement. To alter the play would have been a betrayal of the historical truth. The production is more powerful and packs a wallop for remaining authentic to its source.

One most certainly has to take the context of the show at the time of which it was written and set. It is worth noting that Steinbeck himself, despite having come from a wealthy family, spent time working with farm laborers during his adolescence. The author copied their ways of speech and often drew on actual events.

 

It remains more than eighty years after its publication, a moving story of hope, friendship, and the American dream.”

Far from a modern retelling of the landmark play, this new production is a faithful adaptation of the source material – telling us what it truly means to be human.

This is something that Susan Shillinglaw, from the Center for Steinbeck Studies and author of A Journey into Steinbeck's California, is keen to point out. Steinbeck himself recounted an incident in which he witnessed a "disturbed man" murder one of his own bosses – an event which perhaps remained with him. The same is also true for the character of Little Lennie – inspired by a man that Steinbeck witnessed accidentally killing a tame rabbit.

Yet, Of Mice and Men's undying spirit is undoubtedly found in the bond between Goerge and Lennie. The character's situation is, of course, one of hopelessness but it also one of unwavering loyalty among friends. This itself is reflected in the title of the play, taken from 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose poem To a Mouse, told of a tiny field mouse that watched helplessly as his home was destroyed by the approaching plough. It's a connection that isn't hard to locate in Of Mice and Men as George and Lennie's own dreams are flushed away before them.

The bond between the two characters is expertly brought to life by Richard Keightley and Matthew Wynn as George and Lennie respectively, who it almost feels stepped from the page to the stage in an instance. The duo is supported on-stage by an ensemble cast that includes Andrew Boyer (Candy), Kamran Darabi-Ford (Curley), Cameron Robertson (Slim), and Rosemary Boyle (Curley’s Wife).

Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is a classic for good reason. It's a play that deserves a standing ovation - despite not having received one. Furthermore, it is a play that needs to be seen at least once in a lifetime. Don't miss your opportunity to do so. Of Mice and Men runs until Sunday, March 24 at the New Wimbledon Theatre. Tickets can be booked via ATG.

 

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