To take on John Steinbeck’s classic story Of Mice & Men and produce it as a three-hander would be an incredible task for anyone, to perform it with actors who have learning disabilities seems nigh on impossible. However, this is just what Mind The Gap Theatre Company did last night at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre to a packed audience.
Mind the Gap is a theatre company who in their own words “Believe in quality, equality and inclusion”. Their mission is “to dismantle the barriers to artistic excellence so that learning disabled and non-disabled artists can perform alongside each other as equals.”
This production cleverly written by Mike Kenny has the action of the story taking place three months after Steinbeck’s story ends, and so the evening unfolds in flashbacks.
The three actors who tell the story are Jez Colborne, Robert Ewens and Jessica May Buxton. Jez and Jessica each take on several parts, although the main role for Jez is George – a sharp little guy who looks out for Lennie - and the main role for Jessica is Suzy a prostitute who George visits. Robert remains as Lennie throughout the play.
The play is quite a harrowing story and certainly does not promise a happy ending. The characters are sympathetically played by the three actors. Robert Ewens portrayal of big hearted, simple minded Lennie – a giant of a man who does not realize his own strength, and likes to stroke and pet soft animals and people, but sadly ends up inadvertently killing them – is excellent. The character remains strong throughout.
Jez, playing four characters is also strong and as George makes a good contrast to Lennie. Jessica, playing five characters, switches seamlessly between them – whether male or female –effortlessly.
The piece is, on the whole, well directed by Tim Wheeler – there are just one or two moments where I feel the cast could possibly have done with a little more help and assistance - but taking into account the incredible difficulty of the piece, overall it shows a sensitivity of touch.
At times it is difficult to discriminate between the action in the present time and the flash backs, so a bit difficult to follow - I’m not sure how that could be overcome but perhaps it might be something worth considering for future runs of the play?
Good use is made of both the lighting and the image projection throughout the performance.
I leave you with a quote from the Mind the Gap website.
“Our work is driven by high quality standards. It’s more than drama about disability, it’s professional theatre by disabled people. No other company tells stories like we do. Our world is diverse and it’s important that audiences see professional actors with learning disabilities on their stage.”