Review, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich: Fine staging of a classic work

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, Serendipity Theatre Company, Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until October 23.

Any group taking on this play - based on Steinbeck’s classic novel - needs a fine director, a strong cast, good teamwork and, vitally, an actor capable of inhabiting the character of Lennie, the simple-minded, gentle giant with a love for small animals and an ignorance of his own devastating and misguided strength.

Fortunately, Serendipity was not found wanting on any of these fronts and, in John Ling, the director, Steve Wooldridge, found an actor who was not only physically right for Lennie but was utterly convincing in the part.

Lennie’s large, sorrowful, frightened eyes, his spontaneous childlike smile, his nervous gestures and his innocent fear haunted this excellent production which set out to plumb the depths of a story of loneliness, hope and shattered dreams.

But this was far from a one-man show; a very talented cast worked to help create the atmosphere of a remote Californian ranch populated by men who could only dream of a life elsewhere and where the presence of the only woman, the young , bored wife of the boss’s son, Curley, was considered a danger to all.

Roger Jackaman as George, Lennie’s friend and minder, may not have physically looked like a man who has done even a day’s work on a farm, but he managed to portray the tired anxiety of looking after his pal and the great loyalty, protectiveness and affection - and finally even love - he felt.

There was good support from George Holmes as Candy, the one-armed handyman, and from Michael Clarke as Crooks, the crippled victim of racial isolation, Duncan Broatch as wise and sensitive Slim and Colin Lee Bennett, as Curley, a nasty, suspicious, possessive piece of work if ever there was one, and farmhands played by Phil Cory and Tom Mayhew.

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Steinbeck’s novel portrays Curley’s wife as more of a tantalising flirt than the character played here by Rachel Lucock, but the ploy was successful in attracting sympathy towards a na�ve young woman harbouring dreams of another “fantasy” life - away from a husband she does not love or respect.

Scenes of violence – always difficult on stage - were convincingly accomplished.

Wooldridge’s decision to introduce a scene of racism from the novel worked well but a further addition - a scene in which Lennie hears voices - was less successful and added little to the drama. However, the direction throughout was otherwise very sure-footed. Imaginative set design and lighting contributed to a fine all-round performance.

Of Mice and Men continues at the Sir John Mills Theatre until October 23.

David Green