Gilded Ballon Teviot, Edinburgh – until 26 August 2019
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Of Mice and Men, in the Gilded Balloon Teviot Wine Bar for the full fringe, benefits from one fine performance and one exceptional one.
There are some obvious reasons why adaptations of John Steinbeck’s tragic novella about two itinerant ranch hands during the Depression come round regularly. Not only is its structure inherently dramatic – there is some evidence that Steinbeck may originally have conceived of it as a play – but its perennial status as an academic set text practically guarantees an audience.
Such cynicism aside, there is an even more compelling reason for Fringe Management to bring back its two-handed version, and that is adapter-director Nigel Miles-Thomas, who gives a towering performance in every sense.
Michael Roy Andrew is very good as the smaller, more socially adapted George, but he is inevitably overshadowed by Miles-Thomas as his travelling companion Lennie. It is unfair to say this is the part Miles-Thomas was born to play, as he can do so much more besides, but his inhabiting of the role of the unaware, ill-fated giant is quite something to behold.
Not only does he have the necessary physical stature, but he has none of the cartoonish elements some bring to the role. He also introduces a couple of moments of understated early menace that add to the foreshadowings of the violence to come, without sacrificing any of the sympathy he attracts.
The concentration on the two main characters emphasises the chemistry these two performers enjoy, and the adaptation is surprisingly effective, if a little front-heavy; I am still not entirely convinced that the story can be done in under an hour, but this comes pretty close.
While some might justifiably mourn the absence of the book’s other characters, this way of doing things does gain considerably in tautness and immediacy, and complaining that a two-handed production only has two people in it seems a tad redundant.
Instead, Andrew has to do a lot of the heavy lifting in supplying half of conversations, which is done elegantly; while there is some subtle, beautifully done stagecraft to represent Curley’s wife.
There may be a couple of moments where newcomers to the story strain to keep up to speed, but it is worth any number of over-literal, full cast adaptations that seem designed as much as revision aids as anything else.
This version comes extremely close to nailing the tone and the resonance of Steinbeck’s tragic elegy to the American Dream, not least because of Miles-Thomas’s magnificent performance.
Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
Gilded Ballon Teviot, Wine Bar, Teviot Row House EH8 9AJ (Venue 14).
Wednesday 31 July– Monday 26August 2019
Daily (not Tues) at 1.30 pm
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/of-mice-and-men