Those who know me, know how much I love Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. As a teacher, I have had the pleasure of teaching this novella for nearly a decade; every year, my students show me a new way of seeing the story and I learn something new. Last night, I treated myself and my son to the stage production of this iconic story at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
Mark Rosenblatt, the associate director at WYP, may not have known that he would have to impress me, and that such a feat is nearly Herculean because of my enduring passion for Steinbeck’s story. But he succeeded.
The set was unique, opening up Steinbeck’s claustrophobic descriptions of the bunkhouse and the barn, creating a fluidity to the acting space while maintaining fixed features – like the pond. It was the strength of the acting from the entire cast that kept the audience’s focus where it needed to be. Even the lighting paid homage to Steinbeck’s light and dark imagery throughout the story, adding subtle hues of meaning throughout.
Henry Pettigrew (George) portrayed a character of many levels – torn between self and duty, joy and pain. Pettigrew delivered a performance that brought George to vibrant – and venomous – light on stage, and shifted my own loyalty from Steinbeck’s favourite character, Slim, firmly to George’s shoulders.
Dyfrig Morris (Lennie) brings serious lightness to the production, and delivers a performance of a perfect balance between Lennie’s intensity and his inadvertent humour.
Cast in the role of Curley’s wife, Heather Christian had the most difficult part to play of all. A character without a name (even Slim’s dog is given a name), Curley’s wife is the fulcrum around which George and Lennie’s fortunes pivot. Christian showed the audience a character filled with loneliness and pain, as well as her own thwarted dreams, but still filled with a naive optimism that dreams could still come true. Her arrangement of music created an atmosphere of melodic melancholy, gripping the audience tightly and never letting go for the duration of the performance.
“Of Mice and Men” is playing until 29 March 2014 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Go see it. Whether you’re studying it for GCSE, read it for your own enjoyment, or remember any of the George and Lennie references in cartoons. You’re in for a treat, I promise. Even as Burns’s poem says:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
For in this story, there is joy, and pain, and grief. This is not an easy watch, but you will not forget the experience.