National Theatre Live; Of Mice and Men – Review

 

A screen viewing of a stage show has its disadvantages: the atmosphere of a live performance is absent, as is the vital connection between audience and actor. Yet it has its perks. With multiple cameras we have multiple perspectives – even if the video editor has the power to decide what we focus on. This was the case with National Theatre Live’s Of Mice and Men screening at Theatre Colwyn, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Whether it was the tears of James Franco, the quivering lip of Leighton Meester, or Chris O’Dowd’s terror-ridden innocent eyes – the digital zoom revealed to us brilliant facial acting that may have been missed live.

However, the multiple-camera aspect will annoy those who usually allow their eyes to roam the stage – perhaps to find something interesting away from the action. With this, rather than acting as a virtual audience member, we are merely watching a film. Yet the combination of acting, set-design, and music makes this Of Mice and Men recording a powerful experience nonetheless.

Jim Norton’s Candy was impossible not to love, as he wondered the stage frailly and somewhat fearfully, walking his elderly dog with his one remaining hand. Alex Morf also deserves praise for his portrayal of the boss’ son Curley, who unleashed pathological violence in a scene reminiscent of Fight Club. Yet Franco, O’Dowd, and Meester’s performances brought the most pathos to Steinbeck’s tale.

Meester – in her Broadway debut – shone as the nameless “Curley’s Wife” – the sole female role. As the ranch-men openly called her a tramp for not staying at home, her voice cracked heartbreakingly as she defended herself. She’s just lonely – just wants someone to talk to. O’Dowd has clearly worked on his American accent since he appeared in Lena Dunham’s Girls, and didn’t fall into the trap of playing Lenny Small as Forrest Gump. His kinetic acting was perfect for stage; jumping about at the prospect of tending the rabbits, and curling into a ball at the tense moments. Franco, once again proving his versatility, complimented this with calmness and stoicism. George Milton is perhaps the only character who truly understands the hopelessness of this brutal world. And Franco, especially as he raised the luger in the final scene, had this hopelessness etched into every crease of his face.

As the play ended with a blackout, a melancholic bluesy guitar track played us out. Nothing could have been more fitting.

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