Dream land up for sale

20th November 1998 at 00:00
By John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck's novel hit the bookshelves in January 1937; by November the play was on Broadway.

The director of this production, Tim Baker, says the novel translates well, though there are differences in detail. The story of two migrant farm workers in thirties America, George and the dependent giant Lennie, is sparse. Steinbeck's original title, "Something That Happened" points to the simplicity of the staging, throwing the emphasis on the actors.

It's easy to see why the innocent Lennie wants to be with his friend, but what's in the friendship for George? "He is a flawed character, constantly protecting himself. He's got a plan for life but can't make it happen," says Baker.

The dream of owning their own land is first heard after George and Lennie's opening quarrel, when George recounts it cynically. But at its second recital, in the bunkhouse, George is entranced by his own description. George needs Lennie to make the dream real for him, in the way Lennie says "Tell me again".

The ownership dream is finally heard by the riverside, when George persuades Lennie he sees their land across the river, like the Promised Land.

Baker says of Lennie: "He's thoroughly involved in his own world, not just switched-off. He doesn't carry one experience to the next, his experience is fragmented but he perceives certain things crystal clear," - like the rabbits he hopes to tend on the fantasy farm.

There's at least one of this pair in every scene. The other characters tend to present single facets.

The sole woman is known just as Curley's Wife, married to the jealous son of the Boss. First impressions usually see her as flirtatious and trapped by male prejudices. Curley from the first carries all the prickly jealousy of big guys (his first reason for hating Lennie).

Among the other men, Candy has a great sadness, is a responsive rather than proactive character, while the black Crooks, excluded from the men's social activities, stakes his claim to the only right he has, the little territory of his room and belongings. Like George and Lennie's dream farm, this bit of space is illusory, a stable end near the manure left to Crooks only because no one wants to go in there.

Clwyd Theatr Cymru to November 21 (01352 755114), Pontypridd Muni Arts Centre, November 26-27 (01443 485934), Blackwood Miners Institute, December 3-4 (01495 227206) Schools' workshops available: details 01352 756331 ext 273

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