OF MICE AND MEN
by John Steinbeck.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft south BL1 1SB To 16 February 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 30 Jan, 5 Feb 1.30pm 9 Feb 2pm
Audio-described 7 Feb.
BSL Signed 30 Jan 7.30pm.
Runs 3hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 January.
A revival standing up for all who are rootless and excluded.
Ganging aft a-gley at the Octagon in David Thacker’s sturdy revival of John Steinbeck’s own stage version of his 1937 novel (written with the theatre in mind) is Andrew Langtree’s George, whose friendship with Kieran Hill’s Lennie – bear-like of physique, childlike in mind – is about the strangest, warmest and saddest on stage or page. Travelling farms for work, George wonders why he’s saddled himself with the slow-thinking, fast-forgetting man whose devotion’s seen in the way he clings to everything George says, even while, with the innocence of a naughty child, he disobeys his friend.
Gravel-voiced and deliberate in speech, like a bearded Oliver Hardy without the comedy, Hill provides a sympathetic characterisation. And if Langtree, from the opening sweating entry, is a touch too deliberately the American worker, he’s clear in showing a loyalty that never understands and never questions its continuance.
What Thacker makes clear in his intimate in-the-round staging, where designer Ciaran Bagnall corrals the audience in with the characters, using fences all around and where a few bunks fill the stage, is the situation of the marginalised. As the farm owner John Branwell establishes his authority with a quietly-spoken laying-down of the rules; fuss and fury comes from the outsiders. So it’s fitting one of the finest scenes gathers them while most of the men have gone to a local brothel, and sets them in a tension gradually eased under the glowing gold of Bagnall’s lighting.
Along with Lennie are Crooks, the Black worker not allowed with the others, Marc Small showing a defensive aggression learned over years, the quiet Candy (a particularly fine performance by David Fleeshman, external submissiveness covering strong feelings) and Curley’s Wife – the only woman, yet not given a name in this men’s world. Fiona Hampton refuses the easy option of playing her as a vamp, but rather the bored, ignored wife of a possessive, aggressive husband.
The scene stands out amidst the noisier conflicts and suspicions of the rest, bringing a sense of transience and giving a Tennessee Williams-like fragility to people on the edge in a life-style based on physical labour.
The Boss: John Branwell.
Curley: Tristan Brooke.
Carlson: Colin Connor.
Candy: David Fleeshman.
Curley’s Wife: Fiona Hampton.
Lennie: Kieran Hill.
George: Andrew Langtree.
Slim: Patrick Poletti.
Whit: Eamonn Riley.
Crooks: Marc Small.
Candy’s Dog: Berry.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer/Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Costume: Mary Horan.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Lee Johnson.