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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Theatre Review: Of Mice and Men at Contact, Manchester

One of my long-acknowledged weaknesses is signing up for theatre trips mid-week. As a pseudo intellectual who fools no-one except herself, I tell myself that it is perfectly likely that I shall wish to teach all day and then, rather than don pyjamas and lie on the sofa eating crisps, I shall want to go out again and watch something mentally stimulating that requires me to stay awake until past eleven o'clock. For reasons unknown, I am particularly prone to booking the types of plays that appear on the National Curriculum, as if perhaps I didn't get quite enough of that sort of thing during the day.

Hence I found myself at Contact Theatre last night for the opening night of Mind the Gap's production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, a novel that surely every school child since the beginning of time has studied. Apart from my basic laziness, another thing I forget when I book tickets for plays on the National Curriculum is that just because I'm not taking my students doesn't mean that other teachers aren't taking theirs; I tell no lie when I say that Contact appeared to be filled with ten thousand school children last night, each of whom seemed wildly excited to be doing something so cultural on a wet Wednesday night.

The biggest compliment I can pay Mind the Gap is that this seething mass of adolescent humanity was perfectly hushed and quiet during the performance, except for the one occasion where someone kindly explained in a very loud voice to the person next to them the explicit meaning behind a comment about small men. This aside, the youth of today, so recently seen in the foyer throwing sweets at each other, seemed much impressed by this sensitive portrayal of Steinbeck's classic tale, performed by a theatre company who believe that learning disabled and non-disabled artists should perform alongside each other as equals. The cast of three - Jez Colborne as George, Robert Ewens as Lennie and Jessica May Buxton as Suzy - was uniformly excellent, with particular credit to Jessica, who was required to play three male roles as well as two female. Good as she was, the real heart of the play is the relationship between George and Lennie, and Colborne and Ewens were never less that convincing as the mismatched but inseparable friends.

Criticisms? Well, the performance was only 65 minutes long, with no interval. Aside from the obvious downfall (no interval, no wine), this resulted in the play feeling rather one-paced - the whole point of an interval is that it allows a play to build to a mid-point climax before everyone is allowed a gin and tonic to calm down for the second part. Nor did the play quite achieve the intensity that such a pared-down performance should have allowed. Still, it is clear to see why this production has received so much praise on its previous tours, and is certainly worth seeing, even if you don't have a hundred teenagers in tow. Of Mice and Men runs at Contact until Sat 19th Feb, and is back in Manchester on May 26th at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale - full details on the website.

Oh, and much as I hate to say it, a 65 minute running time has another advantage: I would certainly go to the theatre more often if I could guarantee being in bed by 9.43pm every time...

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