Simon Morris reviews Of Mice and Men - live performance at the National Theatre, New York, starring James Franco and Chris O'Dowd
This hit Broadway production of John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 play, Of Mice and Men stars James Franco and Chris O’Dowd as smart George and dumb Lenny. It’s very theatrical, which is easy to get into the swing of, and very much of its time, which is slightly harder.
Of Mice and Men is – like many American classics – about the American Dream – George and Lenny’s search for the ideal happy ending for two bums with nothing to trade but their hard work.
Back in the Thirties Great Depression, Steinbeck’s American Dream had nothing to do with today’s X factor fantasies of fortune and fame. For George and Lenny, the dream was simply a tiny slice of America’s plenty – a little farm of their own, one where they could work when they wanted to, not when they were told to.
It was socialism, if you like, but a very American idea of socialism. And the point was that Steinbeck, and his audience – then and now – were well aware that this modest goal was beyond the hopes of the Depression-era masses. But countering this Big Lie was something more real. Ironically, it’s the thing that drives today’s social media – simple friendship. When things go wrong for George and Lenny, as they inevitably do, they still have one thing they can rely on – each other.
And you start to realise the Depression wasn’t simply a financial failure. It was a social one too, driving just about everyone apart.
The fact that the 2015 theatre-going public of New York – and here – flocked to see a play about an America so apparently divorced from what’s happening now is strangely touching. It’s the equivalent of Britain’s memories of the Blitz, maybe, or our own Anzac spirit.
I have to say that seeing the stars of so many, rather less improving, movie comedies capturing that era so powerfully in two hours on stage is uplifting in more ways than one.
It’s good to see that new media and ever-shorter attention-spans haven’t killed off one of the oldest and most direct forms of story-telling there is. Not yet.