Theatre stars aim to reinvigorate Steinbeck classic

Ahead of its run at New Wimbledon Theatre in March, Of Mice and Men’s stars and director discussed the challenges of bringing Steinbeck’s classic to life at an exclusive preview screening and Q&A last week.

Lead actors Richard Keightley and Matthew Wynn, who play protagonists George and Lennie respectively, admitted they couldn’t refuse the chance to bring an iconic piece of literature to life.

When asked what drew him to the role, Matthew revealed he had long dreamt of playing the farmhand on stage.

He said: “There aren’t many theatre roles where I think, ‘I’d love to play that role’. But Lennie is one of them – I’ve always wanted to play Lennie.”

He added: “What an amazing character.”

Both actors revealed they’d chosen not to watch prior interpretations of their roles, so they could find the characters themselves.

Matthew said: “They’re such famous characters – you already have immediate ideas as to who they are.”

Richard admitted the relationship between George and Lennie was often viewed as a one-way thing.

But he said: “George gets a huge amount from his relationship with Lennie, in terms of that human connection.”

Director Guy Unsworth took this idea one step further by suggesting the reason George was so reliant on Lennie was because Lennie believes wholeheartedly in their dream of a better life and, if Lennie believes it, George can believe it too.

He said: “Given that most of these people must have known, in the back of their minds, that these dreams weren’t possible – because if everybody gets the dream, nobody can have it.”

Guy also revealed he hoped this production, which features original music composed by Mark Aspinall, would offer something fresh.

Contrary to previous productions of the show, Guy revealed he wanted to evoke not a muted world of slatted wood, but a vibrant landscape full of colour to evoke the dream-like world Steinbeck crafts.

To do so, the play will make use of a multicoloured 10ft-tall set, comparable to that of a musical, to conjure up depictions in paintings by Steinbeck himself.

Related artwork and black and white photography, plastered all over the rehearsal room’s walls, serves to give both cast and crew a constant reminder of the world they intend to portray.

He said: “It’s an active world. It’s a not a low-key, hazy, Tennessee Williams southern America world.

“At times it’s fast and furious and exciting, and [the characters] are trapped within their imaginations within this world.”

He added: “It’s an incredibly–naturally–theatrical world.

“These huge, dust-filled winds that completely covered central America sent people off to what they knew was the promised land–which was this very fertile, green California.”

Matthew Wynn as Lennie in rehearsals

The director also highlighted the play’s contemporary relevance, likening the mass migration of 1930s ‘dust bowl’ America – around which the tale focuses – to the European migrant crisis of today.

Guy described the biggest challenges of bringing the play to life were fight scenes and those with a lot of people in.

He also believes that while audiences at the time the play was written would have been familiar with many of the settings included, they will be less accessible for audiences today.

For this reason, he explained, it was difficult to bring those surroundings to life in a twenty-first century context.

But he confessed he welcomed these challenges.

On the play’s core themes, Guy said: “It’s about the quest for survival in a difficult world.

“The situation they’re in is so bleak and enterally monotonous.

“It’s a great celebration of the human mind and spirit.”

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