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REVIEW: Of Mice and Men at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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Of Mice and Men is a powerful production of a difficult and harrowing play. There are some outstanding performances from a strong cast.

Based on the 1937 novel by John Steinbeck, and directed by Iqbal Khan, the Great Depression which hit America after the 1929 Wall Street Crash is the background to everything that happens.

George and Lennie are two friends who have nothing but the kit they carry as they travel from ranch to ranch seeking work. As George says, they do all the labour but have nothing that comes up from the ground.

Such men work for so little that they can spend a week’s pay on a Saturday night at a house in the town – even if all they do is sit in a comfortable chair and drink whisky – and don’t trouble the girls. They say it’s good value because the high-spirited madam doesn’t water down the booze and she makes jokes.

Tom McCall as George and William Young as Lennie – credit Mark Senior (2)

George – in a bravura performance by Tom McCall, which makes the character so real you feel you know him – is a dreamer. One day, he tells Lennie, they will have a small holding of their own with chickens and a cow. When it storms, they will sit inside, warm by the stove and enjoy listening to the rain pattering on the roof.

But just as you can’t have Macbeth without the murder, the piece must have tragedy at its core. Lennie is slow-witted. He is neither good nor bad. He is a huge machine who doesn’t understand his own strength.

We know that he habitually crushes the life out of small animals in his enthusiasm to touch them. It’s accidental but they are just as dead.

When a young woman known only as Curley’s Wife (a stellar performance by Maddy Hill) gently flirts with Lennie and invites him to stroke her hair and see how soft it is, we know she is courting disaster.

This is a grim work about a grim subject with a stark set. Everything is mangey -the men, the dog, (super puppetry by Jake Benson) the outhouse and the bunk beds. It’s unremitting.

There is excellent support from James Clyde as the rancher, and Lenny and George’s co-workers: Simon Darwen as Slim, Edward Judge who gives an authoritative performance as Carlson, Reece Pantry as the humane Crooks, (resigned to his isolation because he is black) Stuart Quigley as Whit and Riad Richie as the hot-head Curley. All of them inhabit their roles.

Tom MCall as George and Maddy Hill as Curley_s Wife - Credit Ciaran Bagnall (2)

Tom McCall as George and Maddy Hill as Curley’s wife – Credit Ciaran Bagnall (2)

Sadly, though the characterisation of the Southern old timer Candy by Lee Ravitz and the lead figure Lenny by William Young are commendable – Lenny is played as a softly spoken clumsy giant – they are utterly believable but often indecipherable or inaudible – especially when Lenny faces away from the audience.

In times, once again, when too many people have too little reward for their life’s hard labour, this is a haunting story.

This production will not be forgotten.

Of Mice and Men is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 22.

 

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