REVIEW - 'Wild West' Of Mice and Men at Birmingham Rep is far too tame - The Bromsgrove Standard

REVIEW - 'Wild West' Of Mice and Men at Birmingham Rep is far too tame

Bromsgrove Editorial 24th Mar, 2023 Updated: 24th Mar, 2023   0

I CONFESS to being an unreserved fan of John Steinbeck – particularly the book and play ‘Of Mice and Men.’  I’ve seen several productions over the years; my favourite being the one by Roxana Silbert starring William Rodell and Kristian Phillips here at The REP back in 2019.

Sadly I cannot say the same of this latest REP imagining which I felt failed to capture or effectively communicate Steinbeck’s compelling story.

Director Iqbal Khan has chosen a slow, ponderous approach with odd gaps and a lack of realism. It’s like a heart missing many beats and in need of a pacemaker.

Add to this Ciaran Bagnall’s wooden mish-mash of a set and here comes the perfect storm.  It stretches the length and breadth of the colossal stage like some homage to an abandoned box of Jenga.

Bagnall’s cavernous set does nothing to help the actors project –  nor does Khan’s penchant  to have actors deliver lines upstage – it became a Krypton Factor test at times to audibly engage.

Tom McCall plays George, the wandering farmhand whose burden it is to look after his child-like cousin Lennie (William Young). They share a mercurial bond – George as protector and disciplinarian and Lennie as his giant of a buddy – a hapless child trapped in a man’s body.

Together they roam the arid prairies in search of ranch work to raise money to buy a little smallholding of their own.

However, this is the time of the 1930s great American depression and their quest an impossible dream.

That is until they meet old crippled cowboy Candy who offers to throw in his life savings if he can join them. The old timer is played endearingly by Lee Ravitz.

Most of the action tales place in the ranch bunkhouse where Riad Richie plays the insanely jealous Curley, James Clyde – Boss, Simon Darwen – Slim, Reece Pantry – Crooks, Edware -Judge Carlson and Stuart Quigley is Whit.

This cowboy domain should have a feel of the Kevin Costner series ‘Yellowstone’ where the ranch hands live out their lives in a colorful pecking order – but it does not.

Steinbeck’s writing has layers of banter, bawdiness, misogyny, classism and racism all wrapped in redneck backbiting. There are glimpses – but not enough to draw you into their world.

Maddy Hill brings a bit of welcome raunchiness as Curley’s wife who wanders around in search of anything that might be a tedium buster.

There are big moments in the script – like when a mangy old dog is ordered to be taken out and shot. This is of course a puppet as is the norm these days – oh for a real flesh and blood mutt with whimpers and makes us our eyes fill with tears.

Another is the fight between Curley and Lennie that’s all air punches and stage claps.

Finally, we do not even get a working revolver bang in the most important scene that has been building since the get-go -just a damp squib off-stage sound effect.

This production does have some fine actors and I’m sure the company could deliver more. The whole thing needs to trot, then canter, even a little gallop but it fails to get up into the saddle.

Of Mice and Men runs at the Birmingham REP until April 8. Click here for times, tickets and more information.




Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

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