Reviews Nottingham Published 7 November 2012

Of Mice and Men

Nottingham Playhouse ⋄ 2nd – 17th November 2012

Easy does it.

Peter Kirwan

There was  a sense of confusion present from the start in Giles Croft’s production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The Robert Burns quotation from To a Mouse that dominates the curtain, updated some lines (“and leave us nothing but grief and pain”) while leaving others in the original Scots (“Gang aft agley”). This partial translation typifies  what is a conservative staging, one which aims primarily for accessibility, but is ill-judged in places.

Croft’s production emphasises the moving, co-dependent relationship between two migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression, John Elkington’s George and Daniel Hoffmann-Gill’s Lennie.  Towering a head over George, Hoffman-Gill plays the ‘dumb’ labourer as childish rather than slow. Speaking quickly and mimicking his fellows in gestures as well as verbally, his Lennie is awkward and  uncomfortable in his own skin, happiest when crawling on the floor to pet an animal. Elkington’s George, while unfortunately often inaudible even from the stalls, serves as his confident handler; whether staring up into the face of Curley, the boss’s son; studiously ignoring the unwelcome incursion of Curley’s wife into the men’s hut, or exploding in rage at one mention too many of ketchup, George is the driver of the events to which Lennie attempts to react.

Croft’s most successful decision – in terms of audible audience reaction at least – is the introduction of a beautiful fourteen year-old Australian Shepherd as Candy’s dog, reducing the young audience to squeals on his every appearance and open cries of distress as Candy finally caves under Carlson’s offer to shoot the dog. Played slowly, and with Robin Bowerman’s Candy simply turning over in his bunk at the sound of an offstage shot, this scene was a masterclass in the building up and painful release of dramatic tension.

The sympathy for the dog is transferred to Candy and, to an extent, to Lennie, who elicits further cries when he throws his dead puppy into a corner. Lennie’s passivity and apparent helplessness become a strength of the production, not least as Curley beats him to a pulp with a stool before Lennie finally grabs and, with an extraordinarily graphic sound effect, crushes his hand in his fist.

Of Mice and Men is a slow-paced piece, and unfortunately continuing issues with audibility and accent sometimes made it difficult to engage with some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes. Far better were the moments of silence; whether this be George waiting for his posse to disperse before calling Lennie out of hiding, or Slim sharing the knowing look with George that seals Lennie’s fate.

Perhaps most problematically, the production mishandles its final moments. While Hoffmann-Gill and Elkington build up a fine tension in the tearful reprise of the opening scene’s fallout, and in the prolonged pointing of Carlson’s Luger at the back of Lennie’s head, this is squandered through a rushed, panicked delivery of the final few lines and an ear-splitting gunshot as the scene cuts to black. Instead of the stunned silence one might expect, the young audience – there were a lot of school children in – screamed, laughed and continued giggling in relief as the cast took their bows.

That the death of a human was treated with far less gravity than the off-stage death of a dog perhaps speaks clearly to the easy points of engagement employed by the production at the expense of a more nuanced treatment of the core narrative. Nonetheless, while doing nothing radical, Croft’s production was a reliable, audience-friendly treatment of Steinbeck’s tale that wore its heart on its sleeve and left behind a strong sense of the futility of dreaming.


Peter Kirwan

Peter Kirwan is an editor, reviewer and academic, originally from the Wirral and now based at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in the contemporary performance of early modern drama and is the author of Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha (Cambridge, 2015). He is currently writing a book on Cheek by Jowl, and writes The Bardathon review blog.

Of Mice and Men Show Info

Directed by Giles Croft

Cast includes John Elkington, Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, Robin Bowerman, Mark Jardine, David Beckford, Robin Kingsland, Bridie Higson, Jim Findley, Karl Haynes, Odie Bannerman




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