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Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells: Of Mice and Men tour by John Steinbeck kicks off 10-week UK tour in Kent

By Angela Cole

It’s a powerful portrait of the American spirit, set in a sweeping rural landscape in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A testament to the bonds of friendship and what it means to be human, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a modern classic. Using Steinbeck’s original text, Selladoor productions have produced a new adaptation which kicks off a 10-week UK tour at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, and also plays in Tunbridge Wells.

Considered a challenging and controversial play, it is produced in association with the theatre. It tells the story of George and Lennie, two migrant workers who dream of owning their own ranch.

Rehearsals of Of Mice and Men by Selladoor productions
Rehearsals of Of Mice and Men by Selladoor productions

With nothing but the clothes on their back and a dream, George aspires to be his own boss and be “somebody” while gentle giant Lennie aspires to be with George and join him in his Eden. Richard Keightley stars as George, alongside Matthew Wynn as Lennie.

Here, director Guy Unsworth talks about staging a play that is close to his heart.

Do you feel the pressure of presenting such a classic?

It is very exciting, but there is a great responsibility on us. We have a fantastic cast, which I am very lucky to have. I also think it isn’t very often that you get to do one of the great American plays in a UK tour. We will also be playing to lots of different demographics, which is great, and I know the matinees are full of school audiences, which is brilliant. I am very much looking forward to it.

How did you feel when you discovered you’d have the opportunity to stage Of Mice and Men?

This is the play that Steinbeck wrote – the original. It was an experiment to see if he could write a play in novel form. He didn’t like reading plays, so he did it in the style of a novel. It is a bit like picking up a classic like Shakespeare – it is a story that people know very well but it is the way you present it that is the challenge. You want to be very truthful.

Director Guy Unsworth
Director Guy Unsworth

How do you feel about the story itself?

“It is not only about the Great Depression in 1930s rural America, but is a timeless tale of loyalty and the struggles for survival in a cruel and competitive world. For me it is also one of the most beautiful stories ever told – both heartwarming and breaking at the same time. I fell in love with it when I studied it as a teenager, so it’s always been on my bucket list to direct, and when I mention the title, so many people have a great fondness for it too. I’ve always loved it – it is the only thing I really enjoyed reading at school. On the surface, it is a story of companionship, but there’s a simplicity to it. Steinbeck has an amazing ability to write things in accessible ways. He is incredibly philosophical. But his characters aren’t – they are very unsentimental.

Of Mice and Men in rehearsal
Of Mice and Men in rehearsal

What were the challenges?

We have worked really hard to evoke the landscapes of rural America and the Dust Bowl – the golden, yellow land for miles around.

How is the story relevant to today?

It is about hope, and the human spirit. We believe that we can improve and it is worth struggling on, which is just as true today. There is a clear parallel with the refugee crisis at the moment. The people in California in the 1930s believed these migrants were taking their jobs, but the people had nowhere to call home and why wouldn’t you go somewhere if you thought there was water and employment there.

DETAILS

Of Mice and Men will open at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on Monday, January 29 and run until Saturday, February 3. For tickets visit marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.
The show is at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, from Monday, March 26 to Saturday, March 31. For tickets visit assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk or call 01892 530613.

Of Mice and Men will be at the Marlowe Theatre and the Assembly Hall Theatre
Of Mice and Men will be at the Marlowe Theatre and the Assembly Hall Theatre

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