Of Mice and Men @BroadwayCatford | London Theatre Review

John Steinbeck’s well-loved story of enduring companionship and shattered dreams Of Mice and Men has seen many a film and stage adaptation. South-East London’s Broadway Theatre is the latest to take on this staple of the UK’s GCSE syllabus.

George Milton (Arron Kelly) and Lennie Small (Thomas Renshaw) form an unlikely friendship during the Great Depression in late-1930’s America. They travel together from one job as a field-hand to the next. The two men couldn’t be more different in stature or temperament. Quick-witted George is slight, short-tempered and fiercely protective of his friend Lennie, a gentle-giant with severe learning difficulties and little understanding of his own considerable strength. With an obsession for soft material and cute furry animals, Lennie pets them so hard he often unwittingly crushes them under his might.

The victims of his fetish for softness are getting larger and George is concerned this could cause the two friends long-term problems especially at their new job where the boss’s pugnacious son, Curley suffers from a short-man complex and aims his ire at poor, unsuspecting Lennie.

Directed by Cameron Jack, the Broadway’s adaptation of Of Mice and Men is a minimalist affair with no elaborate props or costume changes. Perhaps this is to emphasise the men’s bereft existence or due to budgetary restrictions; one can’t really tell. In any case it seems most apt. It’s also a relief to discover how faithful the script stays to Steinbeck’s text; the violent scenes are staged particularly well. There are several performances of note too.

After a rocky start Arron Kelly’s George gets more convincing as the evening wears on. Sam Donnelly is sufficiently obnoxious as belligerent Curley. Tyler Coombes does a very commendable job as enthusiastic young buck Whit as does Alec Gray as Candy, the one-handed dogsbody who after so many of life’s disappointments, finds hope momentarily with the arrival of Lennie and George only to have it dashed to pieces yet again.

Juliette Power’s turn as Curley’s (unnamed) wife adequately conveys the loneliness and isolation of the only woman in an overwhelmingly testosterone-dominated world, unable to relate to the men around her in a non-sexualised context.

However it’s Renshaw’s portrayal of Lennie that really lingers with the audience. His heartbreaking depiction (not to mention huge frame) captures all the vulnerability of the kind-hearted but freakishly strong man-child whose one simple aspiration to own a farm with George where they can live off the ‘fatta the land’ appears doomed from the outset.

The Broadway’s production of Of Mice and Men is not flawless. There are aspects of it that could have been tighter including a few of the performances. Curran McKay seems too young to be cast as the middle-aged unofficial ranch authority, Slim and the soundtrack is unnecessarily sentimental in places when the story is already very affecting. Still, Cameron Jack’s version comes close enough to the mark. Steinbeck writes in a way that is highly appropriate for dramatic adaptation and the tale itself is so moving in its reflection of the sometimes treacherous nature of life that it’s very hard to go wrong.

–Tola Ositelu

Of Mice and Men is on at the Broadway Theatre in Catford until 24 October 2010. Box Office: 0208 690 0002