Of Mice and Men

Joe has appeared twice as 'Lennie' in John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’.

His first appearance was in 1994. His second was at The Young Vic in London, this time with Andrew Schofield as George, in 2004.

Reviews from the 2004 production:

Where is the wrath? By Martin Oldaker

The latest production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is touching but lacks punch when dealing with issues of the plight of the American migrant worker. To judge from their age (and level of sweet consumption), there were few in the audience at the Old Vic who were not studying Of Mice and Men for school exams.

Except for me, that is, and I approached the performance with no knowledge of what was to come.

The raw material looks good as author John Steinbeck contemplates the lives of wretched workers forced to travel towards the farms of California in search of work and clinging, against all the odds, to the American Dream of a piece of land and a home.

On the way he touches on the wicked role of women, racial discrimination and what we would now probably think of as care in the community.

But touch is all the play does. Theatre like this should move you as well as educate, but this just leaves you with an "aah, poor old Lennie" at the death of a simpleton, not anger at the iniquity of the system, the cause of his demise.

Steinbeck is no Zola. He observes with a tut-tut of indignation rather than fury.

Having said that, this production does rouse sympathy for a complete bunch of losers, every one of whom has their dreams shattered.

George (an optimistic Andrew Schofield) has the best chance of achieving his ambition. He knows the game and plays it well, and might have succeeded had he not been looking after Lennie, a friend he cannot leave even though he expresses frustration at the relationship.

Joe McGann takes the role of Lennie, a difficult one because he could easily become a figure of fun for his actions rather than engage the audience's sympathy, which he successfully does. He is a dangerous innocent who accidentally kills small animals (initially) because he cannot control his own strength.

You know it can only lead to trouble, especially when the seductive but equally ill-fated wife of the gangmaster's son comes on the scene. It's the Garden of Eden all over again, but this Eve has already been badly treated.

Potentially one of the most interesting avenues the play explores is the relationship between black and white, which Lennie exposes because his naivet gets him access to the reticent black horse carer, Crooks (Oscar James).

Crooks is hard done by because the whites won't let him into their room and he has to sleep in the stable; the whites envy him because he has privacy denied to them. A fruitful irony for investigation? But then we move on.

This is a well-paced production with some inventive touches, such as the opening of the play through a door of growing sunlight and its ending with the door closing again (on their hopes?).

February 2004 ~ review by Gerald Berkowitz

Let me begin this re-review with a bit of my original :

John Steinbeck's 1937 novel is an acknowledged American classic, its tale of two itinerant farm workers, one an innocent mentally-deficient giant and the other his protector, encapsulating the almost tragic sense of fated failure that was part of the experience of the Great Depression.

Steinbeck's own dramatisation of the novel is here directed by Jonathan Church in a sensitive, atmospheric production that captures both the tragedy of the two men and the larger social resonances.

After a limited run at the Savoy last autumn, this production originally from the Birmingham Rep has returned with an almost entirely new cast. And while some of the larger emotional resonances I mentioned have been muted with the changes, it remains a strong and moving drama.

Perhaps because the new cast have not yet blended into an ensemble, the play is now dominated by the central drama, with the two new leads bringing new colours to their characters. (Those unfamiliar with the story might want to jump down to the summary in the original review)

As the powerful but weak-brained Lennie, Joe McGann eliminates the tics and twitches that dominated Matthew Kelly's performance, rather giving the impression of a rather bright small child in the giant's body, lacking not so much in intellect as in comprehension and moral sense.

Andrew Schofield gives his protector George a feistiness and wiry energy that stress how ill-equipped his character is for the burden he has taken on, and therefore how quietly heroic he is for committing himself to it.

Julian Protheroe, one of the few holdovers from the earlier cast, gives the farmhand Slim the quiet strength of a natural leader; and Sean Baker and Oscar James, as fellow workers who get caught up in George and Lennie's dream of a place of their own, are most effective at expanding the play's portrait of an era. But Sandra Reinton, by playing the one woman on the farm as the shallow floozie the men imagine her to be, rather than as the lost soul Joanne Moseley found in her last year, keeps that character from contributing to a broader sense of tragedy.

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