John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice And Men may now be over 70 years old but is still as fresh and gripping today as when first penned. It’s one of those rare pieces that works equally well as a book, film or stage play and Serendipity Theatre Company’s latest offering brings this potent mix of human drama to the Sir John Mills stage.
Steinbeck’s tale of two migrant farm hands in the 1930s Great Depression never shies away from covering an emotive subject matter on a grand scale but at its heart is a tale of the friendship between the two travelling workers.
In a world where it’s normally each man for himself George and Lennie make an unlikely pair, travelling together from job to job. George, worldly wise acting as a mix of older brother/father figure for Lennie, a childlike gentle giant who may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but who dreams of tending rabbits on his own farm.
The two dream of owning their a plot of land to escape the hardships of life on the road but tragic events conspire to thwart that ambition.
Although director Steve Wooldridge has assembled an impressive company of local talent for this show who work well together to create the farm community, the evening belongs to two remarkable central performances. Roger Jackaman nicely underplays George, bringing a quiet authority to the character, keeping emotions in check but inwardly struggling with the conflict between his own independence and his responsibility for Lennie. John Ling’s lumbering Lennie is a joy to behold, full of childlike glee, constant fidgeting and innocence. It would be easy to play Lennie as the village idiot but Ling shows that inside this giant of a man is a young child who wants nothing more from life than to show love and affection to his longed for rabbits. There is a strong chemistry between the two leads and Lennie’s breakdown in Act2 is almost unbearable to watch but the characterisations are beautifully realised and utterly gripping.
The authentic atmosphere of the piece is aided by a wonderful design by Dave Borthwick, combining Southern swamplands with the slatted farm barn.
Steve Wooldridge’s direction quite rightly focuses on the human conflict, although a canine appearance nearly steals the show and builds tension nicely until the moving climax. Perhaps the additional scene brining to life the voices in Lennie’s head lost some of the dramatic momentum but the final scene still has the power to shock.
It would take a hardened audience member not to have a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye at the end of this production. The capacity audiences demonstrate that there is a strong demand for quality drama in the region and Serendipity Theatre Company are certainly a name to watch out for in the future.
Picture: John Ling and Roger Jackaman in Of Mice And Men. Photographer Charlotte Coward – Williams