Of Mice and Men - Review

SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED -

Seven Characters in Search of a Production

The original title of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was “Something That Happened” and something unexpected happened with this production.The director,Tim McQuillen-Wright, decided to have seven characters played by one man – Carl Boardman. It’s a bold decision, brought about, perhaps, because it’s easier to find one first-rate actor than seven. If I’m wrong about that, I apologise. The decision is valid artistically as well.

It works. More or less.

Carl is the entire staff of the Californian ranch in the American Depression of the 30s which is the setting for the action.

He is in the position (does anyone envy him ?) of having to talk to himself, has to help himself up off the ground,and finally rounds himself up into a lynch mob. He does this by changing gloves, hats, walks and voices, and, thanks to his being brilliantly confident, he doesn’t come over at all like a quick-change artist in old time music hall.

Whether the audience kept up with him at the performance I saw, is another matter. It is asking a lot, after all.

Of Mice and Men is one of those plays where disaster is inevitable. You know from the onset that no-one is going to win. This is its strength and the reason why it has lived and breathed so healthily for more than 70 years. George and Lennie’s talk (George’s mostly) about the good life just round the corner is not going to happen. It is the dream that keeps them alive. A dream that keeps us all alive,at the moment, come to think of it.

When I told a friend I was going to see the show, she sighed.“I couldn’t bring myself to go,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking !” She’s right. It is. But the grief is not depressing.

Andy Hutchison and Andy Bell are the two leads, Andy Hutchison the “tough” one. The thing about his performance is that he isn’t tough.

His relationship with his feeble (autistic?) mate is tender, supportive, generous,and not looking for gain, When he kills Andy Bell to save him from the lynch mob,you accept there is nothing else he can do. It is the ultimate gift. His performance has genuine beauty and a remarkable stillness. You know exactly what he is thinking. Andy Bell, big, blubbery and rabbit-fixated, does not go out out his way to ask for sympathy. He attracts it naturally and deserves it.

Hannah Brain has a pretty thankless job, the empty-head whose intrusion wrecks the lads’ chances by accident. Hannah,voted Best Newcomer at the end of last season, is obviously an actor to watch.

Tim McQuillen-Wright gets a good atmosphere going in the studio. The final moments of his production are masterful.

John Steinbeck’s dog ate the first draft of the play. Not a reliable critic, though he was responsible for Steinbeck’s giving it a better title.

by Barry Hewlett-Davies