Tag Archives: Of Mice and Men

Review Of Mice and Men at the Chapter Seligman Studio presented by August 012

(2 / 5)

 

August 012 performs John Steinbeck’s  Of Mice and Men for laughs and misses the mark by a country mile!

Introduction and Background

John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella was a new genre of work that Steinbeck invented. In his own words, it was strictly, neither a novel or a play, but a play/novelette.  In his eyes, he recognised that the novel was in a moribund state, but theatre was “coming alive”.  This genre used chapters for curtains and is scened in such a way that it can directly be transformed into a play. He eventually decided to write a play,  “in the physical technique of a novel.”

The story is about two itinerant farm workers who travel the road looking for work during the Great Depression of the United States in the early 1930’s.  Steinbeck was born and brought up in Salinas in California, and he witnessed the impact of over 300,00 migratory workers from the Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma and primarily and other prairie states had on his part of California.

The two workers, George who is intelligent and worldly but uneducated, and Lenny, his mentally disabled companion. They both dream of living in a better place in a better world, but their destinies are realised when they arrive to work at a plantation.

It is easy to relate this to the current situation in South Wales in terms of disillusionment and lack of hope, the displacement of individuality.  The explosion of migratory workers suggests, (without the nationalistic connotations), to the reasons why many people voted for Brexit last year.  So, it’s an ideal play to put on in this location and social climate.

The first production of the play, at the Theater Union of San Francisco opened to favourable reviews on 21st May 1937 and shortly afterwards.  it opened on Broadway, with legendary actor Broderick Crawford as Lenny.

If you look at the photograph of Lenny and George above, one thing that strikes me is that it heightens the claustrophobic intensity which is a feature of both the play and the novel. George and Lenny are trapped in their own sad world, and this has to be an essential feature of any production of Of Mice and Men.

August 012 Production Of Mice and Men

CAST

Anthony Corria; Sara Gregory; Neal McWilliams; Tom Mumford; Wil Young

All actors, with the exception of the two protagonists, George (McWilliams) and Lenny (Young) play multiple parts.

Director: Mathilde Lopez

Set Design: Tina Torbey

Lighting: Ace McCarron

Sara Gregory

Wil Young

Neal McWilliams

Tom Mumford

Anthony Corria

 Production Design

Just before entering the auditorium, I had a brief conversation with a member of the production team. The show had been sold out for its entire run, so, due to its popularity, I asked her whether it would tour. She answered in the negative, saying that the production was an expensive one due to the stage design, and it had been tailor made for the venue. So, then I asked her whether it would be brought back later on and she stated that this is a possibility, due to the demand from local schools, many of which were unable to be catered for during the run. I also overheard her say that this production had drawn from both the book and play sources.

Upon entering the space, I could see why touring is an impossibility. The stage had been crafted in such a way that it fitted the shape of the auditorium and could not be easily adapted to another space . There is no central stage, and effectively, it is a theatre in the round, with audience seated on each side.

Located in roughly all four corners were microphones and a dozen lampshades, some lit are overhead. Wide spaces between the rows of seat, enables the actors to move freely around. This results in a slightly negative way for you either have to turn your ahead around to see all of the action, or use your imagination.

The Show

When the play starts, Lenny and George are speaking to each other using the microphones and at diagonally opposite sides of the auditorium. This destroys the intimate, claustrophobic essential feature of the story immediately.

There is a great deal of audience participation in the production. This is fun, but, again, distracts from being focused on George and Lenny’s enclosed existence. It all gets rather manic  from time to time.

However, My main criticism is based upon the way that the dreaming of a better world is played. Using a filmic technique, or at least, this is the impression it left on me, George spoke into his microphone with background music and such a way it parodied either Hollywood or itself. At times, George reminded me of a demented evangelist.

This technique is used to better effect when the only female in the story, Curley’s wife speaks in a highly sensualised way.

Another example where the integrity of the story is shattered is with the shooting of Candy’s dog. This is a very important segment of the story. Candy’s old sheepdog had outlived its usefulness and according to Carson’s blunt should be put down as it stunk out the bunkhouse. The death foreshadows Lenny’s shooting by George at the story’s finale and also symbolises, through a developing pattern of creatures being crushed by Lenny, and ultimately, the fate of the rabbits and via, the fate of the Safe House”, the idealised world that the protagonists and Candy dream of.

The part of the dog is selected by a random member of the audience, who is led off stage to its fate. The audience member, naturally, looking a little embarrassed and smiling nervously, trudges off to the great amusement of everyone, thereby killing the dramatic impact. I didn’t hear a shot offstage, which might have readdressed the balance. Candy, later returns with copious amount of blood on his hands and the audience dog “actor” returns to his seat.

Neal McWilliams, (George) is the pick of the actors on display and Sara Gregory provides some nice cameos. She has to play both Curley and his wife, and if I am not mistaken, the role of Candy is played by two different members of the cast. This is a little confusing, but difficult to avoid with only five actors cast.

Another feature that didn’t work was the interchanging between the use of the microphone and natural voice within the same soliloquy. I didn’t see the point of this and I feel that it distracts from what is being said.

Summary

Of Mice and Men is a study of the hopes and dreams of men and of the necessity for men to have dreams. But these hopes and dreams are contrasted with the reality of the harsh world in which men must exist,
and the setting, costumes, lighting, and acting style must reflect this concept of contrast.

This is taken from a dissertation from undergraduate student Saralee O’Neill approved by the Graduate Faculty of Texas Tech University in 1985. It sums up my argument perfectly. Being innovative, which this production most certainly is, doesn’t necessarily make it good theatre. The integrity of the story and Steinbeck’s deep feelings on this subject have to be maintained. Steinbeck wrote what he felt and what he knew about firsthand.

I concede that this production is very entertaining. The majority of the audience were senior school students, and, in the most part, their attention was maintained throughout, which is a considerable achievement in itself. I have taught this novella at University in China, and I wonder whether the students really were truly informed about this work of literature based upon what they had watched. I am of the opinion, that they hadn’t.

If your “Theatre bag” is of the One Man, Two Guvnors ilk, then you will probably love this production, but Steinbeck – it ain’t.

The run ended on 28th October 2017, but may return.

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Review Of Mice and Men, August 012 by Troy Lenny

All photographs credit Studio Canno

(4 / 5)

Of Mice and Men is a story of loneliness and misunderstandings. I remember studying this literary art in high school, but I didn’t  notice the finer details, only the outline.

On Wednesday I watched Of Mice and Men presented by August 012, at Chapter ArtCentre. The outline of the story is two friends, George Milton and Lennie Small who are two workers in the Great Depression. To escape their cruel reality they share a distant dream that persuades them they will own their and land, “an’ live of the fat of the land.” This dream swirls colours of great happiness into their lives.

I do not want to cut curiosity out of the plot, so I will express little of this element. There are two stern problems blocking their dream. Lenny has an intellectual disability, and naively often strokes problems at work. And George and Lennie need ‘stake’ (money) from work so they can whirl their dream into reality.

I rate this production four stars. Why? Because the production was extraordinary. It had a partial modern theme which drew out the connection that many of the problems in Of Mice and Men still exist today, if you thin your eyes. Additionally, the production style conflates imagination with reality through dreamy description and because the audience’s seats are placed on an empty stage an immersive reality surrounds you (plus you may be able to play cards with the characters!)

I would  recommend anyone reading this to book a ticket, and visit the world Of Mice and Men because its performance style will enlighten tenebrous learnings. One element of the production  I noticed during this production was all of the characters were Greatly Depressed, but they wiped their tears and some tried to smile and others frowned. For example: Callous Curley, always had a curled fist most likely because he felt lonely, but due to his expected masculine role he couldn’t express his feminine emotions so he was always steaming frustration. Consequently, Curley’s wife felt lonely, and wandered looking for company and due to expected feminine roles she likely thought the only way to attract a man’s attention was by swirling hips.

I would like to thank all involved in the production Of Mice and Men for their creative minds, and extraordinary performance style – it was striking.

Troy Lenny

An interview with Mathilde Lopéz, Artistic Director, August 012.

Mathilde with the Of Mice and Men Company. Photographic credit Studio Cano.

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to with Mathilde Lopéz, Artistic Director, August 012. We discussed her career to date, her new production Of Mice and Men at Chapter Arts Centre this October and her thoughts on theatre in Wales today.

Hi Mathilde great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi, I am a theatre director and the artistic director of August 012.  I was a founding member of National Theatre Wales, used to be Literary manager at Theatre Royal Stratford East and before directing, I worked as a scenographer. I trained at Central St Martins and Birkbeck College. I am French, I am of  Spanish origin and grew up in Morrocco and the West Indies.

 So what got you interested in theatre and the arts?

Drawing, painting and sculpting were first, then theatre happened. I don’t remember a particular moment so I either forgot or it was always there.

August 012 Yuri, Credit Studio Cano.

 Your company August 012 describes itself as “developed, shaped and questioned by the way we live here and now, and therefore profoundly and structurally relevant to the nation today.” Is it possible to explain how you approach this methodology when creating work for the stage?

I am interested in how we live today and where we make the work. Everything I do is profoundly anchored in our times, our current technical equipment, our politics and the space and people we make it with. I often work with new participants along with trained actors and set tangible challenges- either through space or casting- in the rehearsal room so that we all wrestle not only with the ideas of the play today, but its embodiment.

August 012 Caligula, Credit Studio Cano

 In October, August 012 is performing Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck at Chapter Arts Centre. I wonder if you can discuss why you choose to direct this play?

I love Steinbeck. Particularly Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. I read them in a loop for a couple of years when I was a teenager. In French and in Casablanca and it felt very close, I sometimes think that the combination of poverty with the sea and the sun-like Steinbeck Californian characters- must have had something to do with it. I also read Of Mice and Men which felt then and still feels now, like the essence of the United States of America in all its grandeur and catastrophe. Ultimately, I always wanted to do Steinbeck, and I might carry on, his novels are so generous and compassionate that they do help to breath.

Wil Young who will play the role of Lennie

The role of Lennie will be performed by Wil Young. Wil is a company member from Hijinx North Academy, one of 5 Academies in Wales that trains learning disabled and/or autistic adults to become professional actors. Hijinx have pioneered supporting the work of disabled and/or autistic actors on our stages, how did this new collaboration develop?

I’ve reread the novel trying to establish a contemporary view on Lennie’s character with Cardiff School of Psychology researchers. We concluded that Lennie would potentially be on the autism spectrum and it felt right to work with an actor who would understand and confront himself with these difficulties on a daily basis. We contacted Hijinx  for advice and they quickly became collaborators. They were thrilled by the idea of casting one of their actor in a main role and were very helpful and supportive.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists/creatives? 

I am aware that you only realise that there are barriers when you are different yourself or know and share time with people who are. August 012 tries to minimise barriers in the way we make and produce theatre like many companies do –I see more and more theatre companies that invest in making work accessible-but I am sure we could all do more and are largely unaware. What has become apparent and is now crucial is that we keep organising regular opportunities for consultation with people with different disabilities, from varied age groups and from different social backgrounds. This is the only way to get things right.

Mathilde with the Of Mice and Men company,  credit Studio Cano.

There are a range of organisation supporting Welsh and Wales based theatre companies, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?

There are not enough opportunities in theatre in Wales but I think it is steadily growing.

I wish more was done towards creating bridges with international festivals and networks in the European Union and elsewhere, most of the efforts in Wales are UK centric (or London and Edinburgh centric) and I believe artists and cultural organisations ought to reach out particularly in the current political climate.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Fine Arts and Music. Because I think they inspire all the rest. Fine Arts definitely inspires me to create theatre. Always. I am not sure about the contrary.

Bedwyr Williams, Artes Mundi 2017

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

Some companies and artists in Wales embrace their cultural difference and celebrate their particularity which goes well beyond language and I like that freedom. There’s a lot of freedom in theatre making here and cross arts form widely happened in Wales before it was even a term! So I enjoy the work that manages to connect this specific originality with the world, like Bedwyr Williams piece for Artes Mundi 2017 or in a different vein, the choir in WNO’s Khovanshchina.

 Many thanks for your time Mathilde.

An interview with actor Wil Young

Wil in rehearsals for Of Mice and Men

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to actor Wil Young. We discussed his career to date, his work with Hijinx Theatre, his role in a new production Of Mice and Men produced by August 012 and his thoughts on theatre in Wales today.

Hi Wil great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

“Hi my name is Wil Young. I am 26 years old. I am based in Holyhead, North Wales. I’m a professional actor with autism. Through Hijinx Academy I have received professional training in acting, singing, dancing and mask work. My professional experience includes ‘Soup’ for the Hijinx Unity Festival. I can travel independently. I can learn and memorise scripts. I particularly enjoy my comedy acting.”

A performance of ‘Soup’ for Hijinx Unity Theatre Festival.

So what got you interested in theatre and the arts?

I’ve worked with Tim Baker on two productions. I’ve been with Hijinx for 3 years. I’ve been acting, if you can call it that, pretty much since I can remember.

Wil in rehearsals for Of Mice and Men

You are a member of Hijinx North Academy, one of 5 Academies in Wales. What activities do you get involved with in the Academy?

I do drama on Monday & Tuesday. I’ve done Unity in Cardiff & Caernarfon. The performances included ‘Soup’ which is a silent piece and ‘The Market’

You are playing the role of Lennie in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, produced by August 012 at Chapter Arts Centre during October. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in this production?

I actually heard through Hijinx that they were auditioning for the part of Lenny and I tried out.

Wil in rehearsals for Of Mice and Men

Lennie is a very famous fictional character, Of Mice and Men is a set reading text at many schools across the world. How are you going to approach your portrayal of this character?

He’s basically like a big kid, so I thought of playing him younger than I would normally.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would invest in the Ucheldre Centre in North Wales, because it would also bring money to the island and the arts.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

There’s plenty of choice in Wales in terms of theatre. I recently saw the first Columbian Circus to be shown in Pontio, Bangor, North Wales. This was called Acelere by Circolombia.

Thanks for your time Wil.