By John Steinbeck; Directed by Kevin Dyer
The Dukes, Thursday 24th September – Sunday 24th October
Review by John Freeman
The Dukes publicity describes John Steinbeck's own play of his powerful novel of ranch hands, death and yes, mice, as one of the true American classics. That's a pretty tough reputation for anyone to take on the stage play, but director Kevin Dyer and the ten-strong cast deliver the goods with an assured, riveting production that holds you from beginning to end.
That's no small achievement: with an opening act that's about an hour and a half long (the second is shorter), some might balk at seeing a play set in the 1930s American depression, wondering what relevance it might have to our own lives today. (Of course, it has). But thanks to some terrific acting - not least from brilliant newcomer Andrew Ashford as the slow, strong and tragic Lennie - the play simply flies by as you're drawn into the desperate lives of wandering ranch hands seeking work, armed with high hopes of securing a better life and an uneasy partnership to get them by.
Throughout, backed by a simple but effective set design by Alison Heffernan, the entire ensemble cast, which includes Paul Dodds as Lennie's long-suffering companion, Noel White as Slim, Chris Jacks as the put-upon Crooks and Cloudia Swann as Curley's anonymous wife, give outstanding performances, conjuring up a terrible time of uneasy lifestyles with work a scarcity, the hopes that things will get better... and the grim reality of their lives, as events spiral out of control.
Of Mice and Men may be packed with metaphor and allusion, but the story itself remains a relevant today as it was when it was first written in the depressed 1930s. None of the power of that story is lost here.
The Dukes has been raising the bar with its recent productions, with plenty of deserved praise for its work such as the recent Sabbat. But thanks to the combined work of this fine cast and production team - even Spikey the dog, who gets his own bio in the programme - the bar has surely been raised another notch.
It was no surprise that that were more than a few tears from some members of the audience as this play came to its grim, unsettling conclusion, a finale mirroring earlier, seemingly matter-of-fact day-to-day events on a farm. This is a simply unmissable production: all credit to everyone involved.
• Of Mice and Men runs at The Dukes until Saturday 24th October. Ticket prices range from £16 - £8.50. Schools and Group Discounts Available: call 01524 598500 For Information. If you are under 26, free tickets are available (Tue and Wed). For performance times, visit our What's On page or visit The Dukes web site
• The Dukes has a Fan Page on Facebook here
• Lancashire Evening Post
"Kevin Dyer's direction, Alison Heffernan's set, Brent Lees' lighting and Mark Mellville's music all add their own subtle hues to a great story given a great production."
• The Stage
"Keeping the emotional balance between their brain and brawn and our sympathy and repulsion can be a problem [in this play] but here the interaction between Paul Dodds as a determined but doomed George and Andrew Ashford as a giant of a Lennie is handled superbly. Remarkably this is Ashford’s first professional role so to make him as believable as he does is all the more of an achievement."
• The National Steinbeck Center
• Martha Heasley Cox Centre for Steinbeck Studies
• Of Mice and Men on BBBC Bitesize
• Of Mice and Men: The Student Survival Guide
• Production photos in this review by George Coupe