When a fiddle-led chorus sing Woody Guthrie's depression era anthem, This Land is Your Land, against the backdrop of a billowing sunset at the start of Roxana Silbert's revival of John Steinbeck's dramatisation of his 1937 novella, the delivery is laced with deadpan irony. Steinbeck's milieu, after all, is a transient society of unskilled labourers whose idea of home is a rough-shod dormitory tempered by the illusion of luxury provided by the fancy chairs that grace the local brothel.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, co-dependent drifters George and Lennie dream of a place of their own, while all about them protect everything they own, to the death if need be. Beauty and something to hold onto for comfort in an otherwise dirty world are so rare that they're either shot, like the old dog that keeps Dudley Sutton's Candy company, or else crushed guilelessly out of existence by Kristian Phillips' Lennie. This is the case whether they come in the form of cuddly bunny rabbits or Saoirse-Monica Jackson's equally loveless and tellingly nameless wife of the boss' son, Curly.
As the play's central partnership, Phillips and William Rodell as George avoid sentimentalism in favour of a more flint-eyed approach as they navigate a land peopled by thwarted dreamers like themselves. The blue-collar machismo of Steinbeck's world may be rooted in the 1930s Californian badlands, but in this Touring Consortium's remount of a production that originated at Birmingham Rep it foreshadows the disenfranchised working class of every austerity-crushed generation since. Swap the wooden shack for a portakabin, and the divide and conquer dynamic propagated by the boss class is much the same.
The Herald, April 28th 2016