In retelling Steinbeck’s classic tale of loss and desperation as the Joad family struggles across America in search of a new and better life during the Great Depression, this production sticks closely to its themes, but a little too closely to its original.
The almost 3-hour long performance appears in place to be a carbon copy of the novel it is derived from; in some aspects creating promising and intricate scenes with great detail, but in others losing its momentum and pace where characters seemingly meander through the plot.
A basic set comprising of two large, moveable stage blocks is used in any manner of ways; as a house, a truck, and sleeping quarters, in addition to a stage for the in house band made up of actors from the piece. This simplistic set could be symbolic of just how little the Joad family had during their journey – it leaves a very stripped-back feeling to the piece, and although an interesting concept it seems very safe, and the constant movement of the blocks means that transitions between scenes are more than a little bumpy.
All in all this performance seems a little too tied up in the script; long winded speech, some of which is not entirely necessary to keep the story moving forward, is broken only by interludes of music. The band sets the tone of the play, with deep and eerie music recreating the desolate atmosphere of the times. However the same applies here; the balance of speech and music is so slightly off, that where there could be an emotional moment created between two actors or between actor and audience, we are suddenly drawn away from the performance into a musical number. Admittedly this does work in favour at times; when the Joad family arrive at their first camp and sing with the chorus, a beautiful and heartfelt moment is created which really makes you feel for these heartbroken and weary characters.
A few characters in particular stand out and appear more developed than others; Andre Squire’s portrayal of Tom Joad is heated and heartfelt; Molly Logan brings the character of Rose to life in an innocent and emotional way that I feel really connects with the audience, and Julia Swift is remarkable as Ma, the strong and bold matriarch of the Joad family.
Overall this production is a strong if somewhat overstretched retelling of the original story, creating some beautiful moments between characters and reminding us still how important it is to stay strong in the face of adversity. 3/5
Review written by Hazel Hinchcliffe.
Grapes of Wrath is currently showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 10th June 2017. For more information on the production, visit here…