Monday, 12 September 2011

An Everyday Story of Bindle Stiffs: Of Mice and Men at the Brockley Jack Studio.

As a teenager, I read Steinbeck's 1939 American novel, The Grapes of Wrath , for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, with astonishment. Steinbeck's empathy with an 'underclass' was almost unknown in English novels, where working class characters were used for comic relief or appeared as villains. There were plenty of servants, of course, since most novels were set in middle or upper-class households.

George Orwell was about the nearest English equivalent to Steinbeck, but there was something inauthentic about an old Etonian pretending to be down and out. In novels empathy with workers was almost nonexistent; failure to make it up the class ladder was generally ascribed to personal moral decrepitude. It's a view that's recently become popular again, but it only began to be challenged in English novels in the late 1950s.

The story of the Joad family's epic journey across the American dust-bowl derives from an era when few authors dared suggest that human institutions might be faulty. The recognition, let alone celebration, of humanity among ordinary working people was a literary novelty in England in the 1950s, although DH Lawrence's 1913 autobiographical 'Sons and Lovers' and some of his short stories had come close.

Of Mice and Men, as the title suggests, works on a smaller scale. Seemingly a portrait of two men locked into a toxic co-dependency, the theme of the sustaining power of dreams and their fragility is reflected in the setting: a rural workplace.It's a far cry from The Archers.

I enjoyed this production at The Brockley Jack Studio. It seemed superior to the 1939 film classic starring Lon Chaney and the 1992 Gary Sinese-directed version with John Malkovitch.

I appreciated the ten minute drive to the Brockley Jack and the easy on-road parking. What I didn't like was not hearing the starting bell or any announcement in the bar, which extends to a room round the back. As a result my companion and I crept into into the back row of the crowded 50-seater theatre after stumbling up creaky steps. I've never been so glad of an interval to stretch my legs.

The play continues until September 24th and my review appears on the Remotegoat website.

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