Kate Cotton saw the play at the Ariel Centre, Dartington, 3 March, 2011
The latest outing of Mind the Gap’s Of Mice and Men is a beautiful and evocative production and highly recommended viewing.
Steinbeck’s classic novella has a strong history with the Bradford-based company, whose mission is for learning disabled and non-disabled artists to work alongside each other as equals. This is the fourth Mind the Gap production of the story and this time round they have returned to writer Mike Kenny’s original three-hand adaptation.
The performances of learning disabled actors Jez Colborne and Robert Ewens, and non-disabled Jessica May Buxton, flow seamlessly as the tragic story of sharp little guy George and big-hearted Lennie unfolds.
The action is set three months after Steinbeck’s story ends and is told in flashbacks by George to Suzy - a prostitute at a brothel in a western one-horse town.
George tells her of how him and Lennie, while scraping a living as ranch workers in 1930s America, have big dreams of buying their own ranch one day.
Lennie is a gentle giant who has no concept of his own strength. He’s also arguably a character with learning disabilities and is played here for the first time in a Mind the Gap adaptation by a learning disabled actor.
George tells Suzy how he has tirelessly looked out for Lennie – as friend and carer. Jez plays the warmth and frustration towards his character’s mate with endearing conviction. Tendencies to talk over Lennie and smack and push him around made me wince - but brought home prevailing attitudes of treating learning disabled people as children.
Robert’s portrayal of Lennie is mesmerising and really draws the audience in to his internal plight. His overwhelming need to ‘pet’ soft objects - mice, puppies and women’s hair - leads to a catalogue of tragedies when he crushes them with his unknown strength.
He reminded me of the character John Coffy in the award-winning film of Stephen King’s Green Mile – the tragically misunderstood, tender but clumsy, big guy.
Jessica’s portrayal of Suzy, and other characters in flashback including old handyman Candy and ranch worker Carlson, was elegantly executed as a great first performance with Mind the Gap.
This is Jez’s fourth outing as George and the experience certainly shows in his confident delivery. Like Jessica he also played the roles of others in flashback, including mule driver Slim and mean-spirited ranch owner’s son Curley. Jez morphed into each character with ease, carrying the audience along with him as the story moved closer and closer towards its tragic end.
The setting was beautifully simple. The action stayed in the brothel bedroom but clever use of lighting effects – including the projection of rabbits and campfires onto the floor - eloquently evoked George and Lennie’s story.
This tour is an ambitious gruelling schedule of 43 performances in 23 venues. Tickets are selling fast and, if the Dartington night is anything to go by, worth every penny.
Go to DAOs listings pages, for details of the tour