Of Mice and Men review at Theatre Royal, Brighton – ‘an underpowered adaptation’
Selladoor Productions’ new adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic has its heart in the right place, but is hampered by a plodding pace and uneven tone.
Richard Keightley and Matthew Wynn have a convincing chemistry as itinerant workers George and Lennie, whose dreams of independence flounder in the reality of their hardscrabble lives. George is alternatively protective and exasperated, Lennie blundering, affectionate and with a surprising capacity for slyness.
A capable supporting cast includes Andrew Boyer, sympathetic as an ageing farmhand, and Kamran Darabi Ford, a suitably petulant Curley. The claustrophobia of a life where men are penned together like cattle is reinforced by David Woodhead’s stylish set.
The production doesn’t shy away from the era’s racism and misogyny: black labourer Crooks (a sharp Kevin Mathurin) is envied for having his own room, but is desperately lonely, forbidden from the easy camaraderie of the white men’s quarters; Curley’s wife (not even dignified with a name) is dismissed as a ‘tart’, but Rosemary Boyle emphasises her isolation, stuck in a terrible marriage on a farm full of men who won’t talk to her.
Director Guy Unsworth delivers a few well-judged moments but, overlong and meandering, the piece never finds the emotional heft it needs. It’s also hard not to baulk at the treatment of the only female character. Ugly as it is, her death is simply as escalation of Lennie’s unintentional violence, a step up from mice and puppy dogs, meaningful only as a trigger to the greater tragedies of the men.