Sydney Review – a moving Of Mice and Men
Andrew Henry and Anna Houston create magic on stage.
Photo: Marnya Rothe
Of Mice and Men
By John Steinbeck
Directed by Iain Sinclair
Sport for Jove
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Season 9 July – 1 August (Sydney) 6 – 8 August (Canberra)
Bookings (Sydney): http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/of-mice-and-men/ or call 9351 7940
In an increasingly individualistic culture, we can broadcast our voice to the world, yet not know to whom we are speaking, nor do we truly listen to each other.
As meaningful communication is fragmented by the rising influence of social media and instant ‘connectivity’, Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, persists as a relevant text for our time. Sport for Jove’s production of the adapted novel, directed by Iain Sinclair, examines loneliness in a society awash with outsiders, and the dehumanising impact that humans can have on each other. The production is an effortless refashioning of Steinbeck’s original work that draws in every audience member and distils the raw emotion that acts as a reflex response to the sometimes shocking, yet mundane, circumstances that arise. It is breathtaking in its simplicity.
Of Mice and Men is a 20th century classic set during the Great Depression, with George and Lennie traipsing around the countryside, moving from job to job, trying to pick up a ‘stake’. They are working on a ranch before Lennie gets into trouble and they have to relocate again.
Lennie is physically strong and a great worker, however his mental capacity is limited, and George, an uneducated but intelligent man, has taken him under his wing. The title of the play is inspired by Robert Burns’ poem, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men. Gang aft a-gley (Often go awry)” and with a string of unfortunate events in their history, you can’t help but sense that Lennie and George’s fate in this play may not be fine and dandy.
From the moment you enter the theatre the audience is greeted by a waft of dirt, transporting you straight to the California countryside. The Reginald Theatre in the Seymour Centre has been stripped back to its bare bones, reframed by wooden accents, a back panel crafted with wood and a dirt covering that spans the floor. Initially this set design, by Michael Hankin, seems incredibly understated, but brilliant details glimmered and revealed themselves as the performance unfolded. Shafts between the wooden backdrop paired with the light design by Sian James-Holland, created a stop-motion effect when characters entered and exited the stage. This seemed to highlight how the simple action of running could be broken down into innumerable intricate sequence of events, each one consequentially affecting the next. In this sense, the design managed to encapsulate the fatalistic themes of the play.
Lennie and George, played by Andrew Henry and Anthony Gooley respectively, exhibit a serene chemistry. True companions, there are numerous sweet moments between the two as a tender love is evident in their relationship, in spite of the challenging circumstances they face. The audience ache over Lennie’s crippling innocence, never wishing to inflict harm yet leaving a trail of affliction in his wake. Henry is artful in his construction of Lennie on stage, with an acute attention to detail, every sound that escapes his lips and every movement is truly Lennie in the flesh.
This is a performance that is not to be missed. The infallible believability in Lennie’s character serves to entrance the audience throughout the play, and this is further augmented by the nuances presented by each character that present real, relatable humans on stage. Each actor brings something different to the table, exhibiting their own brilliance as a performer on stage, and Sinclair has tied together this laudable cast, producing enthralling dynamics.
Loneliness is central to the story, however it is also emphasised that this loneliness is perpetuated by inhuman treatment of each other. The degradation of humans to mere expendable labour, and hence the flippant disregard for various characters’ dignity, is strongly expressed in the play.
This is enhanced by paralleling the expendability of humans with evocation of compassion for animals. A scene where Candy, played by Laurence Coy, grieves as the audience waits for an audible signal that his dog has been put down creates a dreadful churn in your gut. It seemed to me that this emotion for a dog in a very sad situation superseded some of the emotions felt for human characters in far more sinister situations - a fascinating directorial decision that triggered extensive thought. The blatant disregard of outsiders and people on the fringe is a persistent theme in contemporary life, as our society mindlessly marginalises the ‘other’ – whether this ‘other’ is individuals of differing religion, sexuality, economic status or race.
There are multiple figures in the play that embody an outsider, and whose extreme loneliness causes them to partake in conversations where neither is truly listening to the other; rather each wants to release the thoughts that have built up inside of them. Dialogue would take place virtually in the form of two interspersed monologues as neither character properly engaged with what the other was saying. This was an interesting technique, given its foundation in Steinbeck’s dialogue and brought to the fore in Sinclair’s direction. Perhaps it mirrors modern communication for some of us today, when we are overly concerned with making one’s own voice significant and yet we fail to authentically engage with the people around us.
Sport for Jove’s play Of Mice and Men is immensely compelling and showcases incredible skill in all aspects of the production. There are innumerable ideas to grapple with in the piece, in addition to the plethora of emotions involuntarily generated in response to the work. Its audiences will be moved, and I hope they will be changed. See for yourself.