Of Mice and Men in Cambridge - unrivalled performances of broken dreams

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men - Credit: Archant

If you have no plans this weekend, the best plan is to see Of Mice and Men. As Robert Burns almost said: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Boy, do they just?

John Steinbeck’s classic 1930s play is all about our human need to dream of something better just over that elusive horizon. This wonderful but heartrending story tells the tragic but powerful tale of two friends so close that they might be joined at the hip: Lennie, a giant of a man with what we would now call learning difficulties and his protector George. Their relationship is quite beautifully portrayed by William Rodell as the loyal but brittle George and Kristian Phillips as the disturbed child trapped in a powerful body.

The two are dirt-poor migrant workers looking for a ranch job in Depression-era California. They dream of owning their own plot where, according to the innocent Lennie, “We can live off the fat of the land.” It is no spoiler to say that on such dreams are disappointments made.

They light on a farm that is having its own domestic nervous breakdown. The ranch manager’s spoilt and explosive son Curley (Ben Stott) is deeply suspicious of his flirtatious new wife (an unnamed part played with suitable brittleness by Saoirse-Monica Jackson) who has a hopeless dream of getting into pictures. Curley’s manic jealousies are like a burning match in a powder keg.

The play is a riveting study in character and there is a whole posse of fascinating folk to feel for. Dudley Sutton (looking ever more like Arnold Ridley), tears your heartstrings as the ageing farm hand Candy who also has a dream. In the meantime he owns an ageing and ailing mutt, (a labrapoodle called Arthur almost stealing the show) who should be mercifully put down. Dave Fishley will have you eaching for a hankie as the ranch’s only black worker - ostracised and alone dreaming of what he could have become.

You are unlikely to see better performances this year than in this production of Steinbeck’s masterful study of human frailty and the devastating injustices of poverty. Though you know from the first line that things will end badly for Lennie and George, this is a compelling and beautifully acted piece of theatre. Make it your plan to go.