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National Theatre Live: Of Mice And Men

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There's many a slip twixt cup and lip
of mice and men, play, theatre, movie, film review, movie review, james franco, chris o'dowd, john steinbeck
All images National Theatre Live

Of Mice and Men written by Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck was based on his experiences of working on farms alongside migrant workers in his youth. Published in 1937, the novel's title actually comes from a poem called 'To a Mouse' written in a Scottish dialect by Scottish poet Robert Burns. It contained lines that translated as 'the best laid schemes of Mice and Men often go awry' and ultimately in essence that's what the novel is about. It was made into a film in 1940 and starred Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jnr and again in 1992 starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. This film of the play by National Theatre Live heralds the revival of this masterpiece that has been a part of the curriculum in many schools.

Directed by Tony Award, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circles award winner Anna D. Shapiro, this Broadway production filmed on stage by National Theatre Live stars James Franco, Chris O'Dowd and Leighton Meester. It's the story of George and Lennie, two migrant ranch workers who go in search of work from place to place during the Great Depression. Lennie is a large but simple minded man who loves touching and petting soft things. He especially loves rabbits and follows George around like a big puppy. George plays protector to Lennie but also chastises him like a parent when his actions gets them into trouble. Most of the time they've had to leave jobs because of Lennie's innocent but trouble causing behaviour.

Lennie and George have a dream to one day have a place of their own and Lennie loves George repeating this story over and over again. However when Lennie gets into trouble on the job, it forces George to choose between protecting his friend or continuing to make his American dream come true.

This production, which marks the 1st time the play has been on Broadway in 40 years, has been nominated for two Tony Awards including Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role in a Play for Chris O'Dowd. It's a powerful portrayal of the American dream and the heartbreaking evidence of the bonds of friendship.

Personally I love going to the theatre, therefore I did wonder why they would film a play and then show it as a movie. I can only hope this trend begins and ends here. It has obviously worked very well for the film industry because the film recouped its money in the 1st twelve weeks. However, I would have loved to have been in the audience to see this play 'live' at a theatre. Watching it on film just wasn't the same for me. First of all I had to throw out the notion that I was watching a film, and pretend I was actually at a theatre watching the play. Being a film I kept expecting it to move at a different pace but what I was experiencing was the beat of a play without the true heart of it. As I never sit farther than the first 10 rows in a theatre, I missed the feedback I would get from a 'live' show gazing into the expressions of the actors. It was also distracting to hear the sounds of laughter from the audience at the time of filming coming through the speakers as I watched the film. At times it almost felt like a competition as to who was laughing louder and at other times it made me question why I wasn't laughing in places that the film audience found humorous. It was surreal. All this of course has nothing to do with the actual performance of the actors. I just know I would have enjoyed it far more had I seen it in its original format.

It's not difficult to understand why Chris O'Dowd was nominated for his performance. He falls naturally into his role as the loveable mentally challenged Lennie, bringing to it little behavioural quirks that adds to his character. I have seen Chris in many films and fell in love with him a little in the movie 'The Sapphires'. Hurrah to James Franco for finally getting onto Broadway for his debut performance on stage along with Chris O'Dowd and Leighton Meester who were also first timers. I do believe that the performances of all the other actors in the play were equally as strong as Franco's. I enjoyed all their performances but I have to say I didn't walk out of the cinema completely convinced it was the best thing I had ever seen. Personally, even though each actor performed well in their roles, I didn't really feel the extent of the chemistry that should have existed especially between Lennie and George. Perhaps it's the euphoria of something done a little differently that has people talking. It was certainly a coup for the filmmakers producing a film that made a lot of money without the expenses of a regular movie like sets, location, extras and so on. This film is 150 minutes long which included an interval and an introduction on screen by the Director Anna Shapiro during interval time. As a film this is a 6.5 out of 10 for me.

The Trailer

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Why? A film of a play from a novel by John Steinbeck
Your Comment
Where is it showing?
by Suesa (score: 1|14) 2284 days ago

Just found some details of this at Riverside Theatres. A small venue which should take away some of the 'cinema' aspect that the writer is uncomfortable with. If you haven't been to Riverside Theaters there are some great places to eat near the Theatre and a nice walk along the river front. The Ferry trip is a great way to get there from the East too.
I have been trying to find some suitable theatre productions for my teenage son studying drama at school, very hard to find but this is a great compromise.
by emare (score: 1|59) 2282 days ago
The 1939 film from OF MICE AND MEN was the product of great talents, including Lewis Milestone and Aaron Copland.
Ask your local film society to put it on the big screen. Great stuff, and a proper film.
Jen's analysis of the mis-fit in a filmed play is accurate. Just not the same as for either art form.
by (score: 2|555) 2279 days ago
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