Of Mice and Men: visual ravishing but undeveloped characterisation (2 stars)

Of Mice and Men

Undramatic adaptation of the classic novel

With a simple plot and plenty of explicit political commentary – racism, class oppression and the double-standards applied to men and women all come in for direct criticism, Of Mice and Men has the appearance of engaged and progressive story-telling. Unfortunately, the limited plot – Lenny wants to look after some rabbits but ruins it all by killing a lady with soft hair – struggles to fill up the two hours, with the scenes repeating the central dynamic (George tries to keep Lennie out of trouble, Lennie causes trouble) without developing the characterisation. A handsome set conjures the interiors of a 1930s bunkhouse and barn, and the lighting design cleverly evokes the melancholic or violent atmosphere, but Guy Unsworth's measured direction only emphasises the familiarity and weaknesses of the script.

This lack of dynamic tension undermines the solid performances and the critiques of prejudice and, ultimately, George and Lennie are unsympathetic: their vision of self-sufficiency is not enough to lend them depth, and their run-ins with angry fellow-worker Curly and The Boss lack any rawness or urgency. Visually ravishing, the most intriguing scene is set in Crooks' room in the barn, when the treatment of the African-American worker is exposed in its nastiness: pointed and sensitive, it unfortunately adds nothing to the main narrative, a visitor from a more interesting examination of historical prejudice.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 3 Mar, then touring.

Of Mice and Men

Set in 1930s California, Steinbeck epitomises the angst of the American Dream through two migrant workers, looking for a better life in a land they think is made of milk and honey.

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