Of Mice and Men Lyceum, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
Being a migrant farm-hand in 1930s California was an excruciatingly lonely existence. Of Mice and Men, just opened at the Lyceum in Kenny Ireland's production of Steinbeck's stage adaptation of his own novel, vividly depicts this feral bunkhouse society where the men live almost in each other's armpits and trust no one, particularly blacks and women.

But Steinbeck's protagonists, George and Lennie, buck this practice by looking out for each other. This tends to mean wised-up George (Tom McGovern) keeping the Gumpish, simple-minded giant Lennie (Bob Barrett) out of the trouble caused by not knowing his own strength, but George has also become dependent on Lennie's unqualified love and respect for him.

The characters whom George and Lennie encounter on the ranch where they find work are undeniably familiar - years of westerns have seen to that - but the quality of Steinbeck's dialogue and the detail of his characterisation keep them out of the stock drawer. The portrayal of the hot-headed boss's son Curley, for example, played with delightful vehemence by David McGowan, is coloured by a grotesquerie Anthony Mann would have been proud of. He keeps his left hand in a Vaseline-filled black leather glove to preserve its softness for his new wife, of whom he is, of course, intensely possessive.

The story of Of Mice and Men is principally the working-out of George and Lennie's tragic destiny, delivered in two passionate but unsentimental central performances by McGovern and Barrett, but it's also a kind of collective tragedy, which Kenny Ireland's direction reveals with great clarity.Each of the characters on Steinbeck's ranch is fatally isolated in his or her own way. And the pathos of this slice of American life allows Of Mice and Men to be both a naturalistic human tragedy and a raging political allegory with a relevance as sharp now as it was in the Thirties.

As it demonstrated with To Kill a Mocking Bird not long ago, the Lyceum appears to have a natural affinity with American drama and, the odd wobbly accent aside, it is hard to envisage how a "home-grown" version could improve on Kenny Ireland's production of Steinbeck's modern classic.

n 'Of Mice and Men' is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, to 2 March. Booking: 0131-229 9697