Iqbal Khan, director of Of Mice and Men, talks about how the 80-year-old story remains a parable for our times
How can a story written in the 1930s remain relevant in the 2020s? For Of Mice and Men director Iqbal Khan, it’s all about the richly drawn characters.
“At its heart, this is a parable of the outcast, the underdog, the marginalised and the broken,” he said. “I was particularly fascinated by the fact that the story wasn’t told through the lens of those who make or shape the world, but by those who suffer the consequences of those actions.”
John Steinbeck’s novel, first published in 1937, has attracted controversy over the years for the brutality of the language and actions directed at his characters, but Iqbal interprets this differently.
“Steinbeck had a massive, unsentimental compassion for all the characters he introduced us to,” he explained. “These include Curley’s Wife, the only woman on a ranch of men who objectify and avoid her; Crooks, the sole Black man, maimed by misuse and abuse; and Candy, an older ranch hand disabled by his work whose only companion is a dying dog. All are fractured and ache under the weight of lives dominated by back-breaking work from sunrise to sundown.”
Into this world come lifelong companions, George and Lennie – an unlikely pairing that resonates with a real tenderness and ends with a tragic act of love.
“We’ve assembled an extraordinary, inclusive company of actors that embrace the lived experience of these characters,” said Iqbal. “They understand profoundly how their visible otherness has excluded them from opportunity and that brings a depth and vulnerability to the production that is difficult to put into words. It has been a privilege to discover the great truths of this timeless and enduring piece with them.”
Of Mice and Men might be set in an era that seems alien to us now, but it is permeated by themes that are all too familiar to modern audiences: economic migration, racism and prejudice, but also friendship and the dream of a better life.
Iqbal said: “At a time when we feel the grip of uncertainty, a fear of engaging with the unknown, and when so many are dispossessed and isolated, this beautiful story continues to speak to our dream of solidarity with others, to own our paths and enjoy the fruits of our labour.”
Iqbal Khan is an Associate Director of Birmingham Rep, an Associate Artist of Box Clever Theatre Company, and was Artistic Director of the 2022 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.
Yarit Dor, Movement & Fight Director, and Director Iqbal Khan. Photograph: Mark Senior
Tom McCall (George) and Wiliam Young (Lennie)