The Grapes of Wrath – a confused production

Marc Brenner

Photograph credited to Marc Brenner

This stage production of John Steinbeck’s classic novel sees a family travel to California in search of jobs and a bright future. It’s classic Steinbeck: a tale of hardship and the search for hope.

What could have been a fairly straightforward, heartfelt play turns into a frantic, random, skittish combination of (awful) stilt performers, (awful) singing and (awful, awful) dancing. Andre Squire as Tom gives a particularly powerful performance, as does Brendan Charleson as the wise Casy. Aside from that, it’s a vague mixture of over-acted caricatures and over-serious, rather dull portrayals of what could have been powerful characters.

Presumably this is meant to be somewhat of an authentic production, with almost all of the cast wearing clothes of the day and using props representative of the lifestyle of the time. So quite where a Superman outfit in the last scene came from, I’ll never know… “Have you got your costume?” *shake of head* “Well, what have you brought?” *pulls out Superman outfit from costume bag*.

I would say it’s probably an unfortunate one-off, but same goes for the carrier bag and plastic ponchos. Such strange additions are so ‘for the sake of it’, it comes close to being quite bizarre.

Much as I love the idea of a Community Chorus, it’d be great if they could have moved in time with one another. I’ve no idea how hard this is to choreograph (though the moves looked fairly simple from where I was sitting), but I do know it looks like a mismatch of individuals all looking vaguely uncomfortable on stage – such a shame given the variety of incredible amateur performers in the city and the fact most of the chorus members on stage probably had so much more talent to showcase.

There are too many ‘what?’ moments in this show to make it a relaxing watch, and the thought-provoking moments fall in all the wrong places.

I must say,¬†however, the set is particularly impressive. Designed by Laura Hopkins, the simple set includes a deep trench¬†filled with water at the front of the stage – perfect for storm and river scenes. The set slickly transforms from one scene to the next. The multi-roling, however, does not. When characters randomly appear as new characters, this isn’t anywhere near as smooth and, again, further adds to the confusion. It’s a shame as the play, along with some of its talented cast, has the potential to be truly wonderful.

Catch The Grapes of Wrath at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 10th June.