Therry Theatre. Arts Theatre. 19 Aug 2021
If ever the legendary Ole Wiebkin created an atmospheric and powerfully detailed set, it is this one, filling The Arts Theatre stage with rough timber bunkhouse and barn and even beautiful California night scenery. Indeed, if ever a good set is well lit, it is this one by Richard Parkhill.
But, despite a diligent cast, things just did not coalesce on the opening night of this new Therry production.
Perhaps it was the script, loaded as it is with archaic American 1930s vernacular.
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men depicts the ill-educated itinerant battlers struggling against indigency in the 1930s depression years. The actors laboured as much with the sentence structures as with the accents. Perhaps this is why Geoff Brittain, a seasoned director with a fine track record, could not push the pace of the performances in what already is a long and wordy play.
It is a heart-rending tragedy of brutality and loyalty, of yesteryear’s racism and sexism, of a harsh time when hope was as fragile as a moonbeam.
Fortunately, the gruelling sorrow of the story is conveyed and the audience cannot help but be moved, especially at the death of the one hapless female in the tale, the lonely floozy married to the boss’s bullyboy son. Spoiler alert, if there can be such a thing for an old and famous story, but, she perishes accidentally at the hands of the giant simpleton, Lennie. Therein, Ashley Bell’s death scene enactment is truly the performance highlight of the night; a bravura demise.
One gains empathy for poor Lennie through Stuart Pearce’s performance. His character's slow and basic articulation lends itself to the accent and he copes better than most. Leighton Vogt as his caring companion, George, struggles with the Americana but is good with the characterisation. Kym Clayton seems most at home as the civilised member of the brutish bunkhouse bunch on Steinbeck's hellhole ranch with Adam Schultz deliciously despicable as the horrible boss-boy, Curley.
Among the pack, John Rosen is always reliable and Robert Donnarumma , James Fazzalari support enthusiastically while Philip Lineton, screechy as poor old crippled Candy, brings the house down when he drags the huge fake sheepdog on stage with him. Newcomer to Therry is Christian Best who plays the marginalised black farm worker. It is a nice performance and, having come from Kentucky, he has no trouble at all with the accent.
Ray Trowbridge’s choice of folk music is pleasant but the loud off-stage sound effects of snorting horses is puzzling. There are a number of puzzling aspects to this production and one hopes that, as it runs into its season, everything will come together.
When: 19 to 28 Aug
Where: Arts Theatre