Opening night of Of Mice and Men at Brighton’s Theatre Royal was full of an eclectic mix, from college students currently studying the book to eager long term fans of the novel, all anticipating the theatrical adaptation of the great story by John Steinbeck.
The novel lends itself so easily to being adapted to the stage, with Steinbeck himself stating to a friend that he thinks, “the novel is painfully dead. I’ve never liked it. I’m going into training to write for the theatre, which seems to be waking up. I have some ideas for a new dramatic form I’m experimenting with.”
Despite Of Mice and Men being a book instead of his intended play, director Roxana Silbert definitely does him justice in her reworking of his masterpiece. Although the first act is fairly long, it is paced so well that by the time the interval occurs it comes as almost a surprise, because the story and acting is so gripping.
When it comes to playing Lennie, who the audience is continually reminded ‘isn’t bright’, the task came to Kristian Phillips, who’s other theatrical work includes Aladdin and The Tempest. This role can be challenging, as overplayed it can appear mocking and insensitive, while underplaying his simpleness, a theme that is so central to the story, wouldn’t do the character justice.
Phillips’ performance plays out perfectly, and outlines the discrimination faced by those with disabilities in post Wall Street Crash America, something epitomized in William Rodell’s performance as Lennie’s companion George, who vocalises the lack of understanding and frustration felt by those working with disabled Lennie. Phillips’ remarks are timed comedically without taking away from the importance of the message.
Designer Liz Ascroft has created a well-spaced, rustic and desert-like set that echoes the incredibly dry and desolate wasteland where the Ranch is.
Of Mice and Men deals with hard-hitting issues that were central to American society in the thirties, but still resonate in modern life. Themes of racism, sexism and discrimination to the disabled are addressed in both the novel and the theatrical adaptation, giving it the seriousness it deserves with some perfectly timed lighter moments to present an all round fantastic story.
Performed on Tuesday 19 April 2016 at Brighton Theatre Royal.
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