'Of Mice and Men' brings audience to their feet at Torch Theatre opening night

Mark Henry-Davies (left) and Jams Thomas
Mark Henry-Davies (left) and Jams Thomas

There are times when one is completely overtaken by the power that's been displayed on a stage and Wednesday night’s opening of ‘Of Mice and Men’ at the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven typified that total command.

Written in 1937, the play displays John Steinbeck’s precision as a writer who could make his readers - or in this instance his audience - relate to his characters in a highly personable way.

We get to know them, we get to understand them, we get to admire them and most of all, we begin to respect them for their desperation as they cling to their dreams despite the struggles that life in the Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 throws at them.

The play follows two very different men as they journey together from ranch to ranch.

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George Milton (played by Jams Thomas) is something of a powerhouse, small in stature but totally in command of his own mental strength.

Watching Thomas, one immediately becomes aware of the detail the actor applies in order to deliver George’s total self-control. His movements are strong and totally measured while the intensity of his facial expressions bear testament to the love he has for Lennie.

Does he stay with the childlike Lennie because he likes to be in command, or does he stay with him because he genuinely cares for the no-hoper? Watching Jams Thomas, one can’t be in any doubt.

George cares for Lennie as a father cares for his child and is prepared to do anything to nurture him and keep him happy. And this includes the tragic act of mercy he feels committed to carrying out in the play’s closing moments.

Lennie (Mark Henry-Davies) is possibly one of the most difficult characters to play, given his giant stature and destructive strength combined with a childlike intelligence and a low mental capacity.

Lennie is a deeply affectionate man who loves the little mice he finds on the road, the puppies that are being weaned in the barn and his dreams of one day having his own rabbits to look after. All he wants, is to please.

The way in which Mark Henry-Davies captures this childlike innocence is exemplary. He often becomes distracted by things happening on the stage which don't directly concern him, just as a young child does, but this is always executed subtly, inoccently and naturally. The love he feels for his guiding father-figure, George, is obvious, but so too is the way in which Lennie desperately wants to impress him and make him feel proud.

Slim (Chris Bianchi), is a labourer of a reserved disposition but who displays a wise and commanding nature which make him something of an authoritative presence on the ranch and who is looked-up to by everyone. And once again, this is masterly delivered by Bianchi.

Bianchi has the sort of face that lends itself to an always-listening, always-contemplative kind of character but who also holds great understanding of the people around him.

After Candy’s dog is ruthlessly shot by Carlson, Candy falls onto his bed and turns away from everyone to deal with his grief alone.

As this takes place, Bianchi stands in shadow at the back of the stage and looks on at Candy’s still body with an intensity that shows great tenderness and concern.

‘Of Mice and Men’ is a heart-wrenching production which displays the Torch Theatre’s magnificence at encapsulating one of the greatest literary classics of the 20th century.

Tremendous accolade must go to director Peter Doran, production designer Sean Crowley amd lighting designer Ceri James.

'Of Mice and Men' runs until Saturday, October 22.