The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck's classic back on an Edinburgh stage
The relevance of John Steinbeck’s 1939 tale of the Joad family’s enforced odyssey across America in search of work and a place to settle following eviction from their farm is grimly evident in a world of foreclosures and chronic unemployment. Yet in director Jonathan Church’s new production of The Grapes of Wrath, the temptation to clumsily update the story or draw overwrought analogies to the present day has been resisted. Rightly so perhaps, for this is a story that has long been recognised as having a timeless, universal significance.
The cast, which includes TV favourites Christopher Timothy, Oliver Cotton and Sorcha Cusack, seems aware of the need to successfully marry the personal and historical aspects of the story. As Cusack, who plays Ma Joad in the production points out, ‘In writing about the way we exploit everything until it’s exhausted, Steinbeck was being extremely prophetic.’ And if Steinbeck saw fit to describe the banks of the Depression era as ‘monsters’, we can but wonder what he would have made of today’s financial behemoths. Damien O’Hare, who plays Tom Joad, and is also charged with driving the large truck which forms part of the lavish set, contrasts this historical aspect of ‘the immensity of what the Joads are experiencing’ with ‘the nuances of the family relationships’ that make this story so universal, or as O’Hare puts it, ‘mythological’.
Like the Joads, audiences can expect to be taken on an emotionally exhausting journey that ends, not in milk and honey in the promised land of California, but at least, perhaps, in a new understanding of small-scale, humanistic morality.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 13–Sat 17 Oct