Review: 'Of Mice and Men' at New Wimbledon Theatre
Set in the 1930s depression this classic by John Steinbeck covers the universal themes of human existence including survival, friendship, the importance of talking, hopes and dreams, loneliness and boredom.
The scene is set with George, an intelligent man (played by Richard Keightley) and Lennie (Matthew Wynn); a simple man with mental problems, whose dream is to look after pet rabbits but who unintentionally killed the puppy he was later given. The two men have nothing in common but have a bond which displays the understanding and tolerance, on George’s part, and loyalty and dependance on Lennie’s part that friendship produces. “Whatever you want we have not got” suggests George, illustrating their stark circumstances - a theme of emptiness continuing throughout the play. The fact that George tells Lennie to come down to a specific place by the riverbed if anything should go wrong when they arrive at the ranch where they’re seeking work is setting the scene early on for what is to come.
Scene 2 moves to the bunkhouse where we meet the rest of the cast including Curley (Kamran Darabi-Ford) – the muscular and insecure boss’s son who will be the cause of trouble later on - and Curley’s wife (Rosemary Boyle) who flirts with the ranch hands in the bunkhouse out of pure loneliness and the desire to talk to someone. Candy (Andrew Boyer) seeks solace from the company of his elderly dog who is his beloved companion and who gives his life some small meaning. The tension of waiting for the gunshot delivered by Carlson (played by Darren Bancroft) which rang loudly throughout the theatre was palpable when this animal was destroyed and – again – seemed also to be setting the scene for what was to come later. We are also introduced to The Boss (Robert Ashe); Slim (Cameron Robertson) the kindly foreman; Carlson (Darren Bancroft); Whit (Harry Egan) and Crooks (Kevin Mathurin) a lonely soul who spends time with Lennie and helps illustrate the importance of talking.
Dreams of working hard, saving their earnings and building their own home help bring George, Lennie and Candy closer when the latter offers to put money into the venture. Crooks asks to join them to escape his solitude. Dreams of the boss’s wife (Rosemary Boyle) to be in the movies, to stay in nice hotels and to wear nice clothes keep her sane in a harsh world of working men and boredom from which there’s no escape. Hopes and dreams are a thread throughout the work but sadly culminate in emptiness and disaster.
The tension created by the shock of Lennie crushing Curley’s hand when protecting his friend George was palpable. It was inevitable when Lennie told Curley’s wife that he liked “to stroke soft things” and she invited him to feel her hair that there was trouble ahead. Again - the tension created by the anticipation of what was to come could be felt throughout the audience. The final gunshot of the piece was a kindness that saved the gentle giant from a much crueller fate, but which had me gripping my seat. A sad story of unintentional violence and broken dreams…… but an excellent theatrical production.
By Carol Whittaker
March 20, 2018