I watch theatre regularly, two, sometimes three times a week. Having seen a lot of plays and musicals, I enjoy many but few capture your mind beyond the final curtain. For me, ‘Of Mice and Men’ was one of the few.
I have to put my hands up and say I have never read the book by John Steinbeck, for many it sits on their set text list at school, but somehow I have always evaded it. I also knew nothing about the context or the themes ahead of taking my seat at the Royal Theatre on Monday evening.
The play opens on a river bank, the two central characters George (Richard Keightley) and Lennie (Matthew Wynn) sit pondering their future. They both desperately long for a time when they are their own independent men, free of having to work for anyone else and free of poverty and deprivation. It immediately seems that their story won’t be plain sailing. George not only has to look after himself, but also Lennie who is living with a serious mental disability. Lennie, whilst large in stature, has the mind of a child and fixates on things like owning rabbits and caring for puppies. George is loyal to Lennie having taken care of him since his Aunt’s death, protecting him against the cruelness of the world. The two of them journey to California to work on the land, full of hope that they can earn the money to buy their dream, but ultimately their story ends in devastation.
I find it hard to pick out a stand out performance from this piece because it was so expertly cast across the board, but the leading pair deserve high praise. Wynn tackles the difficult characterisation of Lennie with a performance that draws you to him, and wins your heart. In fact his depiction makes it clear to the audience as to why the character of George struggles so greatly to think of a time where the two wouldn’t walk the land together. Keightley gives an equally impressive performance and the audience could feel his pain as he battled with his loyalties and his tough decision at the end of the show. Andrew Boyer also touched your heart in the role of Candy, a man in his later years with health and time not on his side, yet still searching for a glimmer of hope in a bleak outlook.
The themes of the show are sadly pertinent in today’s society. We forget how many people are seeking brighter tomorrows and making desperate journeys. Added to that the themes of loyalty, race, the role of women in society and living as an outcast; they all have stark relevance. ‘Of Mice and Men’ is as much a masterpiece today as it ever was. Captivating, thought provoking and ultimately devastating – this is a must watch piece of drama that will touch your heart and mind.