By Jeremy Miles
A RAPTUROUS ovation marked the return of Matthew Kelly to the stage in Poole last night.
As he took his final bows in this gripping stage adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men he appeared bloodied and battered in his stage make-up.
But in a gesture that could be a metaphor for his recent true-life drama – exonerated after being wrongly accused of a sex offence – he raised his hands in a gesture of triumph to the audience. The applause from the capacity audience was thunderous.
Alongside George Costigan, the actor and TV personality had led a superb cast through a powerful version of Steinbeck’s classic tale of desperate dreams and lost hopes in the tough days of America’s Great Depression
Kelly’s portrayal of Lennie, the mentally subnormal itinerant farm worker hustling a buck in the mean uncompromising farmlands of Northern California was quite simply astonishing.
Every gesture, every movement, every subtle change of expression found the heart and soul of this huge, lumbering man with a simple mind but deadly strength.
Costigan meanwhile turned in a magnificent performance as the fast-talking, quick-thinking George, the loyal friend who fights to keep Lennie in work and out of trouble.
They dream of saving enough to buy some land of their own. Their only desire is for a few simple pleasures.
For a single day, after finding work on a farm near the Salinas River, such freedom seems almost within reach.
But their hopes die amid scenes of prejudice, desperation and a terrible accident.
With its clever set and lighting and a fine supporting cast this play shows Steinbeck’s understanding of the power of friendship, the danger of suspicion and the cruelty that human beings can be capable of. These are matters that Matthew Kelly understands too and it really shows.
*Of Mice and Men runs at Lighthouse until Saturday March 22.