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Of Mice and Men (Newbury, Watermill Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Of Mice And Men was written by John Steinbeck in 1937, but it feels just as relevant today as ever. Set in California, two migrant workers are drifting between ranches, working on the land. Lennie (David Ganly) is a gentle man with learning difficulties, guarded dutifully by his best friend George (Thomas Padden). The men share a dream that one day they will open a farm together, keep rabbits and work on the land. This is a story of friendship and devotion in the face of adversity.

With a large ensemble and intricate set by Hayley Grindle, the theatre feels cramped, but thanks to lighting from Paul Anderson has an electric atmosphere with tones of blues and shadows cast beautifully on the corrugated iron set.

Ian Porter as Slim and Ganly as Lennie both give truly touching performances, and it’s a joy to see them in such an intimate space. Ganly takes on this notoriously difficult part with true sensitivity, and pitches it perfectly. Sadly, the younger members of the cast struggle to keep up, occasionally reaching for cheap laughs, and sometimes jeopardising the pace and believability of the piece with stilted performances.

Padden has some excellent moments, but unfortunately gives an unlikeable and boring interpretation of George overall, and the audience appears to feel restless during some of his longer monologues. He comes into his own at the end however, in an astonishingly poignant last scene.

With thick dialect throughout, it’s a great achievement that all of the cast remain clear in their diction, with particularly strong vocal work from Johnson Willis as Candy. Overall, this is a beautifully subtle interpretation of Steinbeck’s classic and a memorable production.


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