It is not often that one is able experience a live dramatic production as flawless as By the Book Theatre’s Of Mice and Men, now playing at the McManus Studio Theatre in London until December 5.
Full disclosure: American author John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella about two drifters in Depression America in the 1930s remains one of my favourite works of literature.
To be sure, reading anything other than the latest Rolling Stones song lyrics was anathema to me back in Grade 10 English at G.A. Wheable Secondary School in 1966. So when our teacher distributed the worn, dog-eared copies of the text in class, I approached it with the same indifference and trepidation that I usually did with anything handed out by my teachers.
But because the novella was short, a little over 180 pages, I decided that I would give it a shot that night. Well, I found the story so fascinating and emotionally charged – and more importantly, personally relevant to my then life situation (that’s the subject of a whole other written piece), I read it one sitting. The book and story have been with me ever since.
They did not show movies and films in classrooms in those days, so I did not get to see the 1939 movie version starring Burgess Meredith as George Milton and Lon Chaney Jr. as his dim-witted, gentle sidekick Lennie Small until many years later, on Elwy Yost’s old Saturday Night at the Movies series. If you remember that, you are getting up there, just like me.
Since then, I have re-read the novella on an annual basis and viewed every attempt to mount it on the stage and silver screen I could attend. Some have been good, some have been horrid; but the basic story has always fascinated and moved me to tears.
Mark Killeen and his By the Book Theatre cast and crew stick to the original story choosing not to “update” it for modern audiences. A wise move, as Steinbeck’s text is timeless.
Making the most of the intimacy of the McManus Studio Theatre, this production is a dramatic tour de force and should be right up there during awards season after Christmas.
The cast is flawless and every member is perfect in his/her role. As the two friends, Rob Deman (Lennie) and Andre Cormier (George), establish credibility and the necessary rapport the moment they appear on stage for the first time. They are Lennie and George.
The assorted bunk hands are authentic and you again forget that they are actors playing assigned roles. Dave Bogaert as Candy, the crippled swamper, is outstanding and exudes pathos on stage. You feel his pain and joy when he recounts a long ago one-off visit to a classy “cathouse.”
Don Connolly as The Boss, Kevin Curnutte as the stoic Slim, David Leeson as the dishevelled Carlson, Alex Bowman as Whit the erudite younger bunk hand, and Martin McIntosh as the embittered Crooks round out this exceptional cast.
Curley (played passionately by Jesse Gelinas), the Boss’s combative son “with ants in his pants” and Jesslyn Hodgson as his lonely, misunderstood wife own the stage when they are on it, especially Hodgson, who exudes a unspoken sexuality from the moment she appears on stage sucking on a lollipop.
The sets are outstanding and make the audience feel and smell the bunkhouse, barn and forest, complete with the sounds of horses, babbling brooks and horseshoe games.
Of Mice and Men is the real deal and I implore readers to run, not walk, to see this fine piece of local theatre while they still can.
Rick Young is one of the Arts & Culture writers for the new expanded eatdrink magazine. He was founder and managing editor of The Beat Magazine from 2009 to 2014. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.