Jove’s Gentle Giant: Review of Sport for Jove’s Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, tells the story of two migrant workers, George and Lenny, as they travel from town to town looking for work during the Great Depression. In 1937, Steinbeck adapted the prose to theatre and the story more than lends itself to stage.
George and Lenny have been recently run out of the last town they were in after the gentle but simple Lenny scared a girl who had a soft dress he ‘wanted to touch’. The pair dreams of one day having enough money to buy their own piece of land and don’t have to answer to anybody.
Loneliness, though, is something all of the characters suffer from. Most of the workers tramp around alone and the experience makes them more guarded of their privacy: Candy, an old one handed worker’s only friend is an ailing dog, and after it’s killed, he is left with no one. Crooks, the ranch’s Negro is kept segregated from the other workers, and Curley’s wife is starved for companionship. Each character yearns for company, yet it is (ironically) their own prejudices and hostilities that keep them isolated. This is what makes George and Lenny unique, for as dimwitted as Lenny is, he provides a willing ear, and having someone else to look out for gives purpose to what is otherwise a hollow existence. This of course lends itself to the play’s ultimate tragedy.
Steinbeck’s story is certainly a moving one, but it’s brought to life by a skilled cast with hardly a weak point among them. The entire cast put in a stellar performance, but it was the central partnership that stole the show. Andrew Henry plays the Samsonesque simpleton Lennie Small and Anthony Gooley is his quick-witted guardian, George Milton. The two have an incredible chemistry, which makes their on stage relationship feel warm and genuine. Henry is captivating as Lennie. The character’s well-intentioned but thoroughly misguided nature is stunningly captured, the infantilism never overplayed, and one believes that this giant man is disastrously unaware of the damage he can do with his bare hands. Gooley, as his counterpart George, gives an equally impressive performance. Gooley maps the clash between George’s care for Lennie and his need to survive, making for a truly heart-breaking finale. This George is suitably understated, which guards against caricature and allows the audience to connect.
Christopher Stollery is solid as Slim the ‘jerkline skinner’ – bringing both humanity and nuance to the role. Laurence Coy makes for an endearing Candy, an aging ranch handyman, who has lost his hand in a previous accident. Coy’s performance with his canine counterpart is soft and deeply touching. Andre de Vanny gave a great character performance as Curley, the Boss’s son. He was small, bitter and incredibly unlikeable. Anna Houston is virtually unrecognisable as Curley’s wife, a mistrusted, though, misunderstood newlywed. Houston made the intelligent choice of ensuring that she didn’t seem flirtatious, but rather lonely and in need of some company. Charles Allen brings delicious cynicism to Crooks, the black stable-hand, whilst John McNeill gives Carlson, a ranch hand, suitable coarseness and aged weathering. Tom Stokes adds nice touch as Whit, a young labouring man and Terry Serio gives great authority as Curley’s father or ‘The Boss’ of the Ranch. He also provides beautiful sliding guitar and haunting harmonica.
Sport for Jove and director Iain Sinclair has offered a straight, yet affecting, rendition, and with it, a simple though versatile set: gravel covers the stage floor, basic slat bunks are brought in and out and four wooden poles have been staggered across the stage – they present the production’s only failing: a few are situated so as to occasionally block the audience’s view of the action.
Overwhelmingly, however, this is quite possibly one of the finest productions of the year and not to be missed. Of Mice and Men is playing at the Seymour Centre until the 1st of August. For more information see: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/