Of Mice and Men is a slow burner heart-warming and heart-breaking tale during the time of the Great Depression and a terrible drought in America’s ‘Dust Bowl’ southern states which led to a mass migration to California. Two men making this arduous journey with hope of turning their life around and eventually buying a ranch with a vegetable patch are migrant ranch workers George and Lennie.
Lenny has the mind of a very young child who does not understand or have the capability to remember basic tasks but will follow George anywhere.
George feels a compulsion to look after Lennie and at a time when men are travelling alone Lennie is company. We are introduced to the two on stage with George scolding Lennie for carrying around a dead mouse he likes to stroke.
The audience laugh after George throws away the mouse and Lennie secretly retrieves it. For it is also a reminder that Lennie doesn’t understand how to be gentle or how to let go. This is a theme we revisit throughout the play and with such a slow build up the audience are aware something dark is looming.
Rather than the John Wayne cowboy-type stories depicting the yahoo American spirit this is more a story of American broken spirit. Though George and Lennie aim to be different from all the other pitiful ranch workers who blow their money on cheap liquor and ‘easy’ women at the local whorehouse, George’s plan is to save up $600 and buy the run down ranch an old couple are about to sell.
Lennie repeatedly pleads for George to retell the story of the vegetable patch and the alfalfa sprouts and the rabbits he’ll tend. But during such desperate times why should the hope of two men’s dreams be realised.
Nobel Prize winner writer John Steinbeck based Of Mice and Men on his own experiences in the twenties and captures the essence of man at his most basic and desperate and a time where women had a place and were either one type of women or the other and learning difficulties were to be tolerated and colour had no rights or respect.
The men on the ranch where George and Lennie end up all describe the boss’s daughter-in-law ‘Curley’s wife’ – we never find out her name – as a ‘tart’ and a ‘whore’ because she doesn’t want to be cooped up in the house near the ranch workers and is desperate for company. Her dreams of being something or somewhere have been crushed. She confides in Lennie, “the man told me I could be in Hollywood pictures”… There is naive innocence about what Curley’s wife seeks just like the old, haggard ranch worker Candy who is as of little use as his mangy dog. Candy jumps on George and Lennie’s dream and soon the three are planning how they can realise it with Candy’s money and a few more months or hard labour.
Of Mice and Men is worthy of a theatre visit and will engage young and old, male and female, black and white, abled and enabled in a conversation of their place in society at that time.
review by Susie Daniels
Of Mice and Men runs at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 3rd March