As with any stage adaptation of a book I have read, I want the theatrical medium to bring to life the characters and setting I have imagined whilst reading. The piece of art must be conveyed in a different way by using visual aids to breathe life into printed words on a page. The staging by August.012 in association with Hijinx of ‘Of Mice and Men’ by Steinbeck did not disappoint.
Steinbeck was a chronicler and reporter as well as a novelist. He used the events he witnessed in the Great Depression as the backdrop to some of his greatest novels and the novella on which this adaptation of ‘Of Mice and Men’ is based. It details the lives of the migrant farm workers who drift from one manual labour job onto the next ranch at the mercy of cruel bosses and heartless owners. The two central characters, Lennie and George, are bound together by a mutual need for friendship. Lennie is physically strong but innocent, whilst George is sharp-witted and tries his best to look out for his friend who often gets in trouble because of his desire to touch and pet things.
The story follows both characters as they try to get a job with board and lodging whilst dreaming hopelessly about a future on an idyllic farm. Lennie portrays a dangerous side as he is unable to control his strength and kills small animals, and we hear hints of past troubles that leads to a tragedy that threatens their relationship. George could easily leave Lennie behind and survive, but he chooses to stay with his friend, despite having to bail him out of scrapes every so often. The relationship between both was moving, and Lennie performed by Wil Young stood out for me as the character I had conjured in my imagination. Sara Gregory was also memorable in the way she glided effortlessly from one character to the next and portrayed the hysterical son of the owner Curlie and his provocative wife Suzie, adapting her speech accordingly. Her poises, especially for the exaggerated Curlie, was exceptional. The sense of brotherhood and loneliness was felt throughout.
The location on the north west coast of California is described by a narrator, and was essential in setting the scene as this landscape is where events unfold. The director Mathilde López remained true to the dialogue of the period, which flowed seamlessly in a fast-paced manner as it revealed all the elements of the plot. However, at times I felt lost with the multiple scenes displayed at once, and sometimes felt I lost parts of the dialogue due to overlapping between the characters. The biggest experiment was the introduction of different accents for the characters, including Cardiff, Ireland and London. Despite evoking the modern twist that these sort of circumstances can be found in places apart from the Salinas, I must admit I did look forward to hearing the American accent that is so central to the period in the book, and found myself wishing that this distinctive element had been retained as a means of voicing the dialogue. For me, the sense of atmosphere created was somewhat impacted by this.
A successful experiment by Tina Torbey was staging the play amongst the audience. The simple wooden boards laid across the centre in a diagonal shape allowed the characters to weave through people and use all possible space in the centre and on the sides. However, as it was set on different levels, it sometimes proved difficult to follow the action with the eye, although the dialogue was clear enough. I also found the interaction with the audience as part of the storytelling was unnecessary as the mere set design ensured we were embedded in the setting anyway. The inclusivity of the audience and proximity to the action was nevertheless successful in making us feel part of the narrative.
The lighting was effective in the use of differently shaped lamps hanging from the ceiling, which altered light and shade subtly. Music was used extensively throughout the play, and was at times unnecessary, even though it suited the atmosphere of the scenes. It was also much too loud at times as I lost parts of the dialogue occasionally.
I enjoyed this ambitious and experimental production, although some did not wholly pay off.
In collaboration with Hijinx.
Until October 28.
Recommended for ages 14+
+ BSL Interpretation by Sami Thorpe on Wednesday 25th
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