Review: Of Mice and Men

LOUIS SHANKAR is left uncertain by this ambitious production of Steinbeck’s novella

ADC theatre Cambridge Of Mice and Men Rabbits Steinbeck

Many of us are overly familiar with Of Mice and Men, with it forced upon us back at GCSE.

Not only do we know what happens, we know the symbolism, the character development, and whatever else English Literature is meant to have taught us. And for those in the audience who didn’t know the story inside-out, many would still have been aware of one of literature’s most famous endings.

This was perhaps the biggest challenge of bringing Steinbeck’s novella to the stage. And this week’s production at the ADC, in many respects, failed. Suspense was missing, replaced instead by tedium. Foreshadowing was obtuse when it could have been subtle. The climax of the play seemed obvious and only shocked me because of the loud bang rather than the action itself.

However, the production as a whole was intriguing, despite some rough edges. The acting was mostly very good, despite some rather eclectic American accents. The sole fight scene felt uncomfortable, with unfocussed choreography sending a dog bowl accidentally flying off the stage.

Luke Sumner and Max Roberts gave devastatingly powerful performances as George and Lennie. Although there was a slight lack of depth in their relationship at times, the trap of caricaturing Lennie was perfectly avoided.

Julia Kass gave was an impressive, three-dimensional Curley’s Wife. Her singing during the interludes was beautiful, despite some technical issues.

However, I found much of the music superfluous and distracting, even though the composition was impressive. A lack of unity between the guitar and voice was strange; music was used to punctate rather than enhance, leaving awkward silences. And an attempt at harmony by the majority of the cast failed spectacularly at being in a key.

Similarly, the lighting and set design seemed to aim too high. Pinks and oranges mixed with sunlight tones to illuminate the stage, creating both beautiful and very strange tableaux. The bunkhouse, although it was an impressive feat of set design, wobbled and shook throughout the scenes.

The smaller, simpler sets that followed seemed much more considered and effective. Perhaps simplicity should have taken precedence over style. Or, hopefully, over the course of the week this will be tweaked and a more successful design will triumph. However, the puppet used for Candy’s dog was a stroke of genius, bringing laughs and glee to the audience.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the production was the adaptation of the text itself. The pacing was painfully slow towards the end of the first act; I found myself willing the interval to arrive. Plus, the ending is rather different from the book, involving an active chase scene, and the curtain falls right after George pulls the trigger.

I’m unsure, therefore, if my sense of dissatisfaction as I left the ADC was down to the script or the production. The beautiful subtitles and nuances of Steinbeck’s prose aren’t translated to the stage. His poetic descriptions obviously can’t be included, but the tension and the depth of drama felt lacking.

But very strong performances and an interesting design just about salvage this play.

3 Stars