“Theatrically accomplished and undoubtedly engaging” — Of Mice and Men at New Wimbledon Theatre

Guy Unsworth’s ambitious production breathes a new lease of  life into literary masterpiece ‘Of Mice and Men’.

The Steinbeck classic, a GCSE set text for years, is a timeless tale of friendship, adversity and human resilience.

An impressive musical theatre-style set, designed by David Woodhead, coloured in faded oranges and blues, helped bring the famous story to life on the boards at New Wimbledon Theare.

In a SW Londoner interview, director Unsworth hoped his interpretation of the world-renowned work would remain faithful to the original, but bring its own distinct flavour.

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

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

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

Inspired by artwork of the time, Guy wanted to evoke an active world of colour and movement—not a low-key, hazy, Tennessee Williams world.

The play’s opening scene, which effectively evoked 1930s dustbowl America in 21st century south west London, was the theatrical manifestation of those aims.

With the help of an original score by Mark Aspinall, deft choreography from movement director Sinéad O’Keeffe, and Bretta Gerecke’s transformative lighting, the audience was instantly transported to the harsh world of the ‘Dirty Thirties.’

The two leads, Richard Keightly and Matthew Wynn (who play George Milton and Lennie Small respectively) brought the touching sense of companionship required to make their on-stage relationship work.

Both actors proved themselves to be the perfect choice to play these iconic roles.

Richard’s portrayal of George was full of drama; it was laced with frantic tension, as he balanced his desire to care for a misunderstood friend with the inexorable need to make ends meet.

Richard imparted anger, passion and frustration on everyone, expressing George’s exasperation to reconcile his feelings for Lennie, and his hopes for their future together.

This febrile emotion hit fever pitch in a climatic scene in which Richard’s George was both shocking and terribly moving.

Kamran Darabi Ford matched Richard’s wrath by conveying a muscular, hotheaded Curley with a jealous streak.

And Matthew’s representation of Lennie was almost unique, managing to strike the balance between hopeless poignancy and unfettered strength with uncanny skill.

His child-like emotions brought a touch of joy to an otherwise monotonous world.

Speaking to SW Londoner, both lead stars welcomed the challenges of bringing the Steinbeck classic to a contemporary audience.

On 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.”

Despite being written almost a hundred years ago, Guy Unsworth’s show, produced by Selladoor, proves this classic text can still be relevant today.

Overall, it deals with Steinbeck’s tale well, and represents not a wholly innovative—yet theatrically accomplished and undoubtedly engaging—interpretation of an enduring classic of American literature.

The age-old adage, ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it,’ evidently rings true.

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