Of Mice and Men in the land of Burns

For most of you, the title and the author speak well, even if your mind brings back some dusty school memories about the novel and its importance in the American literary canon. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, titled after the poem To a Mouse by Robert Burns, deals with a Californian farming community of migrants during the 1930s.

Daesherri via Wikimedia Commons

The play version followed the novel, although, as Steinbeck writes in his letters, initially he intended to tell a children’s story. At the heart of the play is the friendship between two men – one with a big heart, the other one with a small mind – standing against the grit of the cruel capitalist environment of competitive individualism. George (William Ash) and Lennie (Steve Jackson) enter a small male community in a ranch where their dream of buying land and building their own house is shattered.

Colin Richmond’s tall stage design of the workers’ bunk-beds, Crook’s place full of books and the barn do make the characters look small, even the large boned figure of Lennie, whose awkwardness and obsession with soft materials would drive him into a series of death accidents throughout the play.

The wonderful work of the accent coach Lynn Bains paid off well. However, at times the overacting of some of the characters was overwhelming. Candy (Peter Kelly) in the second act somehow forgot that his right hand was cut off and played with unlikely energy for an old man. Crooks, for no obvious reason, slipped out of character and “injury” a few times and Curley’s wife (Melody Grove) became a more memorable character than her husband. Grove excelled in the last scene where her character showed slight depth as (ironically) most of the others do in the company of Lennie.

Director John Dove reveals in an interview that the play speaks to the contemporary audience, referring to the problems of the current community of farmers in America. The Edinburgh audience rewarded the hard and respectable work of the team with cheers and a warm round of applause at the end.

Of Mice and Men is played until 17 March at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.