By Amy Cooper
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, intricately staged by Selladoor flourishes onto the New Wimbledon stage. This landmark play vividly tells the tale of Lennie and George, two migrant ranch workers struggling through the trying times of the Great Depression. They dream of nothing more than to own their own ranch, yet seem to become the tragic victims of their own circumstance, their American Dream is just inches from reach, but ultimately unattainable.
This truly beautiful piece is a powerfully saturated portrait of the American spirit and a heart-breaking testament to the bonds of friendship really delving in to what it means to be human, an enthrallingly, relevant historical masterpiece and testament to director Guy Unsworth.
What is so captivating is John Steinbeck's proficiency in creating striking characters. Despite having a limited understanding of disability when writing, Steinbeck's ability to observe and write about disabled personae such as Lennie, is exceptional. And it is both the actor's and creative's jobs as neuro-typicals to do justice to these characters, which of course they do. This results in Of Mice and Men featuring exquisite, charming and formidable acting, the characterisation of each crafted through masterful, extreme use of physicality, a physicality that crafts an image of disability and neuro-diverse brain attributes so distinctly and carefully it can only be applauded.
Yet, there is equally a certain allure from its compelling design elements. The simplistic, yet totally world-making design, each change initiated by the actors is aesthetically stunning, David Woodhead's set working effortlessly with Bretta Gerecke's beautifully convoluted lighting, to create even the simplest detail such as a sun rise and fire burning. The underscore alongside these tailoring just the right amount of tension and delight throughout. Of Mice and Men really is the whole dramatic package, but don't just take our word for it, what do the critics have to say?
'John Steinbeck covers the universal themes of human existence including survival, friendship, the importance of talking, hopes and dreams, loneliness and boredom'.
'The two men have nothing in common but have a bond which displays' understanding and tolerance, on George's part, and loyalty and dependence on Lennie's''Whatever you want we have not got' suggests George, illustrating their stark circumstances - a theme of emptiness continuing throughout the play'.
'The tension created by the anticipation of what was to come could be felt throughout the audience' had me gripping my seat. A sad story of unintentional violence and broken dreams'' but an excellent theatrical production.'
Carol Whittaker, WimbledonSW19.com
'David Woodhead's set and costume design make perfect sense as a frame for this stark existence.''They (George and Lennie) maintain a classic version of the American Dream and comfort each other... as we see them hope we know it's futile... they've drawn the audience into their world and as part of this close friendship, as they share an enormous amount of pain.'
The overall impression is of a portrait of loneliness in many different forms. The mental isolation of George with Lennie as the main interlocutor, the warped relationship with fellow humans from the travelling farm-hands with only the whores of the cat-houses for any intimacy, the coldness of the womans place in this male-dominated world. ...Loneliness... is something that we can all empathise with and this is a super production to explore that.
'...a wonderful choice by Selladoor Productions to adapt Steinbeck's novella for the stage. The backdrop of 1930s is a powerful setting, with its cruel realities and harsh attitudes. The racism and sexism are extraordinary, but they are essential and of their time'.
'The tension is ratcheted and ratcheted. Director Guy Unsworth has done his work well, inducing the audience to feel pity and fear as a tragic climax nears.'
'Matthew Wynn gives a stand-out performance as hulking Lennie'
'As each character is laid bare, we realise how they yearn for dreams and how dreams are relentlessly broken.'
'Congratulations to set designer David Woodhead for his spare and effective wooden box set, and to lighting designer Bretta Gerecke for the way she shows off the set and the action... the sunlight slanting lazily through the slats onto the yellow and red boards of raw pine...'
'It has long been an assumption that there is no point in putting on plays at Wimbledon, as the venue is too big to fill with audiences for drama. I hope this intelligent and well-acted production plays to full houses and proves the assumption wrong.'
Jenny, The Culture Vulture
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'Heart wrenchingly tragic! Powerful and a complete emotional rollercoaster! Just two men who are the best of friends! Doing whatever it takes to make sure they don't get hurt'.