Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse
With a jarringly off-key wail, Heather Christian ushered in the Mark Rosenblatt era at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, on a night when the American dream flickered and then died an undignified death before the jam-packed auditorium’s eyes. Rosenblatt is the The Playhouse’s new associate director, and his first directorial venture for the theatre is the John Steinbeck masterpiece Of Mice and Men.
In any other production, Christian, who lent her despairing vocals to the role of Curley’s wife, might have stolen the show. Performing a self-composed live score for the production, Christian’s presence is one of the adaptation’s unique selling points. Breathing bolshy life into her much maligned character, the avant-Americana singer gave a more than passable imitation of a woman in a man’s world who, having suffered more than her fair share of slings and arrows, decides to take arms against them. The trouble, however, is that none of the drifters with whom she shares a stage have been dealt a fair hand either, and a few of them, not least the palpably frustrated George, are determined to do something about it.
The fateful scene in the barn begins with Lennie and (the never-named) Curley’s wife patiently taking it in turns to tell the other their dreams, as the intensity of their longing blinds them to the fact that they have a great deal in common. Ultimately, it takes an outsider, in the form of black stable buck Crooks, to see the dream for the sham it really is. His harsh insistence that ‘nobody never gets to heaven and nobody never gets no land’ hits home with a force that takes the breath away.
A majestic set conjures up both the volatile machismo of the bunk house and the sunlit sweep of the fields outside. On stage as on the page, it is the words that jump out at you, as an unlikely pair of friends dares to reach for the stars before being brought back down to earth with a bump.