Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Book to Screen: National Theatre Live's Of Mice and Men

I saw the National Theatre Live's adaptation of Of Mice and Men in November last year, which I then reviewed for my University magazine. But I recently found out that the play is in fact still showing in some cinemas in the UK. If you're wondering whether or not you should check it out, carry on reading.

Little clue - I would recommend seeing this.

Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a tale of two unlikely friends, George and Lennie, who move from ranch to ranch across California in search of work, and their dream to “live off the fat of the land”. Decades after its first stint on Broadway, this twentieth century American classic is back.

The play sees the Broadway debuts of Leighton Meister, Chris O’Dowd and James Franco. Many will go in feeling dubious that these Hollywood stars will overwhelm such a stripped back play. But what gives it leverage is acclaimed director Anna Shapiro (August: Osage County), who whips the two leads into shape – bringing the essence of the story alive in some fantastic performances.

Franco is an actor, writer and director. Is there anything this man cannot do? For the first ten minutes of this play you might be thinking Broadway. When George and Lennie are introduced, their dynamic seems forced – particularly on George’s part. We meet them after  they've just have fled from their previous employment.  Lennie stroked a young woman’s dress and wouldn’t let go which resulted  in an attempted rape accusation. I'd say that while it becomes clear that George protects Lennie, Franco seems cold and the relationship appears seems more strained than affectionate.

But honestly as the story progress, I thought he really  redeems himself! As an actor more accustomed to the nuances of camera, he manages to play George with SUCH  craft and restraint. This worked really well given the stripped back nature of the story.

Real talk -  Chris O’Dowd is the true star of the play. He's known for his roles in The IT Crowd and Bridesmaids and his comedic timing (!!) really shines through. I also liked the fact that he doesn’t treat the character in a patronising way and he shows real attention to detail - especially through the hand gestures. Performance. Borderline. Eccentric.

Later on we are introduced to the much anticipated Gossip Girl alum Leighton Meister as Curley’s Wife. I have to say with all the talk of Curley’s wife giving someone “the eye”, Meister is pretty dead beyond those eyes. She not only has a tendency to over-act, but then fails to convey the various layers which make up this character.  Steinbeck’s texts have a real economy of language, and his characters are very direct. So when the supporting characters go overboard like she does, it is pretty detrimental to what should be a plain-spoken story.

That said, this is salvaged by the entire atmosphere of the set. It's very bleak with nice earth brown tones which ultimately serve to accentuate the play’s tragic arc.

Put simply, Of Mice and Men is a must see.


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