Review - Of Mice and Men at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men

Companionship, displacement and alienation are the universal themes that bind this competent adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1930s novella Of Mice and Men playing at Royal and Derngate this week.

Set in the American Depression era the story of unlikely farmhand buddies Lennie and George is a brutal reminder of the millions of migrants who are still fighting for survival across the world today.

Lennie, a tall childlike man, is a Frankenstein's monster who loves to touch soft things but is naively unaware of his own strength and vulnerability.

Meanwhile, fast talking George, who can't live with, and can't live without Lennie, is a fireball of anxiety, who indulges his pal in their shared dream of a little house on the prairie.

When these workmen arrive at yet another ranch, things quickly start to unravel as George is unable to protect Lennie from the complex social terrain that envelopes them.

The Boss's son Curley is itching for a fight whilst his isolated wife desperately tries to find human connection amongst the ragtag of lost souls.

The harsh environment is depicted via an impressive wooden stage set which uses light and sound to great effect.

Whether it is the burning sun searing through the slates of the ranch barn or the gentle blue moonlight dancing on the brush, the audience is transported to the fabled land of California where hundreds of thousands of impoverished men sought work, food and sanctuary.

However anyone expecting a rag to riches story will be sorely disappointed as Steinbeck was far more interested in depicting the futile reality of the American dream.

On one level this is a poignant tale of a tragic friendship but within the narrative are many layers of insight into the human condition which are sensitively portrayed by the ensemble cast in particular Andrew Boyer who gives a heartbreaking performance as the aging Candy.

Themes of power and control run deep in this production as director Guy Unsworth depicts complex hierarchal struggles between landowners, workers, women and blacks. The subordinated wife, belittles Crooks the denigrated negro who in turn taunts simpleton Lennie.

Meanwhile loneliness abounds through the carefully adapted dialogue which speaks of living alone in the caves or desperately finding humorous conversation and welcoming home comforts in the big soft chairs of the parlour house.

And yet despite its bleak setting and flashes of violence, there is warmth to be found in the central friendship which invokes a dramatic sense of pathos to the very end.

The show runs at Royal and Derngate until Saturday February 10. For tickets call the box office on 01604 624811 or visit