Of Mice and Men

Mon 20th – Wed 22nd August 2012

reviews

Rachel Cunliffe

at 01:07 on 21st Aug 2012

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‘Of Mice And Men’ is a story that has the potential to be poignant, tender and deeply moving. Unfortunately, the leisurely pace and slow build of tension requires an intensity that this cast fails to master, making this production (which is over an hour and a half long) drag from one tedious scene to another.

There are two major problems. The first and foremost is the direction, which seems to suck the life out of what should be a brilliant script. The actors are seated the vast majority of the time, and often deliver whole speeches with their backs to the audience and their faces hidden. (This is a shame, because some of the acting is quite good – more on that below.) The scene changes are also painfully long and poorly executed: the audience sits in nervous silence, with the lights down but not off, watching the cast making multiple trips to rearrange buckets and bales of hay at an agonisingly slow speed. A soundtrack and a sense of purpose would have improved matters immensely.

The second problem concerns, sadly, some of the performances. I applaud the cast for their attempts to master the rustic accents of rural California, but diction is a major problem, especially with Gregor McMillan (George) and Euan Jennings (Curley). Jennings also needs to be told that shouting is not the only way to express anger, as every line of his was delivered in the same barking monotone.

However, aside from this, the acting was mostly solid, and we should remember that these are school students, who lack experience but not enthusiasm or dedication. Gregor Dickie was spectacular as Lennie, making the character of this hopeless simpleton utterly sympathetic, even at the play’s darkest moments. Finn Lawrie (Curley’s Wife) was also strong, and in the climactic scene between her and Dickie the atmosphere crackled with intensity.

A few directorial decisions are interesting, such as the Girl In The Red Dress, who appears specter-like in emotional scenes, but ultimately these do little to heighten the performance. I wanted to like this play, because it is so obvious how much time and effort has gone into it, but the pace is just too slow, and the direction too static. I wish this young cast and crew the best of luck in coming up with something stronger next year.

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Sukhmani Khatkar

at 11:48 on 21st Aug 2012

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I really wanted to like this production, I really really did. From the off it is almost conspicuously obvious that cast is hugely talented. However, some poor stylistic choices, ill thought-out logistics and irritatingly one-dimensional characterisation hamper its chances of success. Steinbeck’s novella details the companionship between George and mentally disabled Lennie as they pursue the ever elusive “American dream” amidst the bleakness of the Great Depression. A poignant meditation on the lonely drudgery of migrant worker life, 'Of Mice and Men' has the power to be incredibly emotionally stirring.

Gregor Dickie should be highly praised for his depiction of Lennie. His is a sympathetic portrayal; not once does he slip out of character, indicating a degree of professionalism and maturity well beyond his years. Tom Lennie too is sincere as Candy: there is a subtlety in his delivery that gives his speech the poignancy required in truly emphasising the inevitable futility of his aspirations. Furthermore, Finn Lawrie as Curley’s wife is not only the perfect femme fatale but also captures the fraught desperation of unfortunate circumstances to great effect. Naturally, some performances were more notable than others, that is not to say that the likes of Gregor McMillan, Nathan Kupisz and Tom Bisset did not capture and communicate the essence of Steinbeck’s message. Euan Jennings also should be commended for conveying the sheer bullishness of Curley’s character, however, some variety in tone and amplitude certainly would not go amiss.

Yet it is precisely the acting ability of this young cast that saves this production from disaster. By far its most frustrating quality was the fact that, for at least half of it, I thought I was listening to a radio show as opposed to watching theatre. The characters' insistence being seated for the vast majority of scenes rendered viewing nigh on impossible, especially if you were positioned near the back of the theatre. Indeed, this is a play that was rife with logistical incompetencies. For example, and I am unsure as to whether this is a stylistic choice, characters spend an almost outrageous amount of time with their backs towards the audience - I believe Crooks graces the audience with all of two minutes of facial expression. Furthermore, some painfully slow scene changes only served to intensify my frustration.

All in all this school students’ production was decent stab at dramatising one of Steinbeck’s classic stories. Some superb individual performances and a shot at introducing some original symbolism (Natalie Clow’s 'girl in the red dress') could not, unfortunately, detract from the constant neglect of practicalites.

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