It breaks your heart, an epic tragedy in miniature: two men, a couple of sacks and a crate, but their plight and their dreams rise before us in pathetic grandeur. Drilling into the heart of the famous John Steinbeck novella, Nigel Miles-Thomas’ simple staging fully evokes its bleak compassion and harsh unsparing humanity. The story of the itinerant farmworkers, clever thwarted George and big, dumb Lennie, is conjured up, a fleck of individual love and pain in the Dustbowl America in the ‘30s. It’s as strong and rough-edged as a Woodie Guthrie song.
Miles-Thomas himself, who adapts and directs, plays the huge, looming,battered Lennie: an amiable Frankenstein-monster of a man, with the intellect of a small child and the strength of a giant. Alongside him Michael Roy Andrew is a small, neat brisk figure: bright impatient, George, who has looked after him and travelled alongside him after his aunt Clara dies, comforting and pacifying the over and over again like a patient parent with the dream of one day them getting their own farm. Every time he is made to re-tell it, the picture rises more solid, more beautiful. The promise is that Lennie can help out and “tend the rabbits”, because of his childlike fixation with petting anything soft and furry.
But not understanding his own huge strength, he kills every mouse he handles, and his tendency to panic has had them thrown out of one farm for clutching a woman’s soft dress and not knowing how to let go. “God, you’re a lot o’trouble!” says the exasperated George, but resignedly. “You cain’t get rid of him cos he ain’t mean”. Lennie, dependent and willing, just fears the punishment of not being allowed to tend the rabbits on the imaginary future farm.
If you know the book you know what happens, and how the great soft dangerous man’s sweet proclivity will bring them to disaster. But what grips in this spare, perfectly judged production is the honest evocation of the characters and their relationship. Alarmed, appalled, we watch Lennie’s half-sly, half-confused grin and moments of panic, his clutching of a newborn puppy whose fate you wincingly apprehend long before he can (“why’d ya go get killed? I never bounced you hard, you ain’t so little as mice, I didn’t know you get killed so easy”.) Michael Roy Andrew’s George, carer and almost parent, perfectly evokes the daily fear and awareness of Lennie’s innocent dangerousness – “It ain’t bad people that raises hell, it’s dumb ones”. Other characters, the few needed, are sparingly evoked: a fight, a death, narrated in brief physicality. Nothing gets in the way of our contemplation of the central relationship, and the immensity of small tragedies. It shakes you, as it should
http://www.edfringe.com to 31 August