by Bethan Linnane
On Wednesday 18th October an odd yet refreshing new take on the classic tale Of Mice and Men was performed. First impressions of the performance area were odd, with a black curtain and three walls comprising the small room it definitely felt snug – even the seating layout was strange, with many audience members sat facing one another or with only a half view of the room. However, the areas stand out feature was undoubtedly the myriad of ceiling lights and their respectively strange lampshades, which were used as spotlights throughout the show.
Of Mice and Men is a classic to many of us, both old and young, thanks to GCSE English. But for the unacquainted, it is the tale of two migrant workers travelling across California for work, trying to save up money so they can, one day, buy their own land. George and Lenny find new jobs after leaving their last place due to a mishap between Lenny and a lady whose dress he just wanted to feel. Sadly history seems to repeat itself as Lenny gets into trouble with a woman once more and costs George his shot at their dream ranch.
The performance began with an opening monologue from main character George reciting the beginning of the book, complete with Lenny dunking his head into a ‘pool’ of water and subsequently dropping it all over the stage. Other key elements of the book were brought to life through the use of props, although some more subtle than a soaking wet Lenny, such as a lead for Candy’s dog or a small mouse teddy that Lenny begrudgingly threw at a wall by my head.
Leading on from this, audience participation was a large part of the show and brought with it a sense of immersion into the setting and comic relief. It ranged from an actor placing their hand on the shoulder of an audience member, to referencing parts of the set like the microphones, to physically taking a woman out of the performance area and pretending to shoot her as though she were Candy’s dog. It created a very personal atmosphere as we became involved and saw the character’s stories develop in real time.
The actors and actresses gave larger than life personalities to their characters, which in a sense made up for the lack of scenery and really boiled characters down to their most prominent qualities. This helped in translating parts of the book that could not be worked into the show, such as Candy’s need to prove himself and intimidate others (due to his short stature) being shown through Candy displaying some very eye-catching dance moves when fighting Lenny. However, it did at times distract from the scene as all focus was being drawn to an actor’s over exaggerated actions rather than seeing them as in their role. As well as this there were intermittent shifts in who-played-who throughout the performance, with only five actors and nine characters to be portrayed their costumes were rightly very distinctive, to avoid any audience confusion, and characterisations were kept consistent so it was easy to distinguish who was who without being able to rely on recognising the actor.
The only disadvantage to the production was an attempt at racial discourse. Throughout the book, the character of Crook, a crippled African American living and working segregated on the ranch, is subjected to racial slurs and prejudices, which was shown in Wednesday’s performance. However, at the end of the show when Lenny began hallucinating and seeing rabbits and his Aunt Clara, they decided to take it a step further and give the rabbits Ku Klux Klan hoods, which I feel were not justified because even though there was a narrative on racial equality throughout, it was not emphasised in any way to make it more than a symptom of the time period. Because of this, it came as a more of a shock to us in the audience than anything symbolic, we were focused on Lenny’s breakdown after having followed his story as the main plot. I feel there needed to be more of an effort to bring Crook’s storyline to the forefront and a stronger racial narrative in the performance to justify the use of those costumes, as they did not make sense in that context.
All in all, it was an enjoyable and new experience, characters were clearly personified, the story was signposted by the use of key props, and of course lighting and music carried the tone throughout; it is definitely a form of theatre that I would not hesitate to return to and encourage anyone to try for themselves.