Of Mice and Men – Review – Leeds Playhouse
By Christine Goode, May 2023
Written by John Steinbeck in 1937, Of Mice and Men explores themes of loneliness and isolation in the Great Depression era. The text includes depictions of racism and misogyny that are potentially out of step with modern sensibilities, but raises fundamental questions relevant to the representation of disability. A favourite on the school curriculum, Steinbeck’s classic allows students to relate and discuss, tackling moral and ethical issues within the structure of the story. Iqbal Khan directs this new production from Birmingham Rep, putting a 2023 lens on Steinbeck’s affecting tale of the crumbling American dream.
From the opening scene we see not joy, but a glimpse of tenderness and hope between the characters George (Tom McCall) and Lennie (William Young), despite having to flee from their last employment due to Lennie’s ingrained weakness getting them into trouble. After they eventually reach new employment, we see them make friendships with workmates and meet the antagonist of the story, Curley (Riad Richie).
Curley has narcissistic tendencies, and we examine his cruel nature towards his fellow workers, especially to Lennie and his wife (Maddy Hill). We detect just how lonely and isolated she is and how desperate to talk to people, who just happen to all be men. In turn, this is then mistaken as flirtation and she is branded a ‘tart’ from the off. She has no name in the piece and is held in so little regard she is known only as ‘Curley’s wife’.
The play tackles some sensitive subjects but also shows us some heart-warming moments. McCall and Young have a selfless chemistry on stage, their performances are compelling. Old Man Candy (Lee Ravitz) is sentimental and along with his decrepit old dog (puppetry by Jake Benson) one can feel they know it is only a matter of time before they both become surplus to requirements.
The simple yet clever set and lighting design by Ciaran Bagnall is terrific and transports us through different scenes with ease. As the cast deliver short songs between scenes, you hardly notice the changes at all. Attention to detail is everywhere – especially with the costumes and smaller props. When we first meet Slim (Simon Darwen) we understand that he has just returned from a hard day’s labour in the dusty field. We also see how the hot Californian sun takes its toll on the workers, and the smoke from the fire George and Lennie make to keep warm. All of these small, yet key embellishments enhance each scene and polish the production, which overall takes the audience on a very believable adventure.
If you are new to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or happen to be a student coming to a matinee, there is certainly plenty to discuss here – and plenty to enjoy, too.
‘Of Mice and Men’ is on at Leeds Playhouse until 27th May 2023
Top image: Mark Senior