Culture Writer Frankie Rhodes reviews a moving touring production of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Spendid SunsWritten by Frankie Rhodes on 17th May 2019
Article 19 Presents: ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck
Set during the Great Depression, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men will never be considered as anything other than serious. The novella is a staple part of contemporary literature: it is studied in schools, and anyone who professes to love literature should read it at least once. Turning a much-loved text into another art form is always a risk, so what is most surprising about the stage version of Of Mice and Men is that Steinbeck also wrote it. Steinbeck’s script is almost a literal translation of the novella, so it requires great direction and production, as well as a stellar cast, to really capture the text’s finest moments and characters and make it a successful play.
Director Christa Harris and Producer Frazer Riley certainly rose to the challenge with their version of the play; it was touching, emotional and haunting, leaving many of the audience members in tears during and after the scenes, thanks to a wonderful cast.
“'Joe Belham was outstanding as Lennie, and quite frankly stole the show.'
Joe Belham was outstanding as Lennie, and quite frankly stole the show. His movements, voice and overall characterisation were evidently carefully considered. Belham gave a beautiful performance, making Lennie endearing and loveable, so much so that the final scenes, in which the audience realises that the American Dream is truly unattainable, were heart-breaking. The scenes between Belham and Hinds were wonderful; the two conveyed the powerful bond between the men, particularly during the horrifying fight scene.
The rest of the cast also deserve praise for excellent performances. Jack J Fairley was able to make the somewhat minor role of Slim memorable with a subtle yet authoritative performance, while Elizabeth Reynolds’s made her character more sympathetic (which certainly is a feat, as Steinbeck himself admitted that Curley's wife is simply functional) and provided some haunting vocals. The scene between Belham and Reynolds was executed perfectly; the drama escalated subtly and steadily, making the scene much more effective.
“'Jack J Fairley was able to make the somewhat minor role of Slim memorable with a subtle yet authoritative performance.'
Attention should also be brought to the fantastic work of Stage Managers Elisabeth Payne and Joanne Dawes. The set was truly beautiful, constructed from intricate flats and hay bales. The production also incorporated a screen onto which silhouettes were cast, creating an atmospheric and intimate staging. This was added to by the constant playing of ranch sounds, which subtly immersed the audience into the world of the play.
Music was also provided throughout the production by Jack Blume, Nick Charlesworth, Joe Novelli and Sam Cleeve. The bluegrass band created a sense of authenticity and contributed greatly to the ambiance. (A note to prospective audience members: the band plays in the Deb Hall for the entirety of the interval; they are definitely worth sticking around for.)
Unfortunately, the spell cast by all these elements was broken on occasion due to the setup of the venue. Much of the action of the play takes place on the floor, or with the characters sitting down. For those who are seated further back, vital movements and facial expressions were often missed, meaning that the intimacy that was strived for was absent. However, more often than not, the actors’ voices alone were able to carry the scene, meaning that not all emotional impact was lost.
This being said, overall, the production was evidently carefully considered, and ultimately was a triumph. This final semester has been host to some wonderful drama from the university, some incredibly talented actors and some very dedicated crew members. Of Mice and Men was the perfect conclusion to all this hard work.
There are still two more performances of the production. To reserve tickets, visit the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/events/229548223836718/