Equally as enthralling as it was emotional, this adaptation gets deep down into the core of what it is to suffer and know great tragedy, but also to know deep compassion.
Entering into The Grapes of Wrath, I was unfamiliar with its source material, the John Steinbeck novel now hailed as an American classic. However, its mere definition as a ‘classic’ piques interest – they are works of literature that get something right about the human race, making you feel very real emotions and a sense of sharing things in common. Knowing nothing about the novel, I ventured into the Nuffield with an open mind.
The play starts and a man in a half-lit stage plays a very weird instrument that I can only say sounds like nails scratching a board, it jolts me back on my seat. Behind him are some unusual installations that look like two huge see-through cages, on top of them more people start playing more normal instruments and when the music stops we are introduced to two of the main characters, the freshly out of jail Tom Joad and the ex-Reverend Jim Casey. They talk about how Tom is now out of jail and how Casey has given up preaching because he sins a little too much and can’t really seem to stop himself. I find some of the things that the character of Casey says quite beautiful, about the human spirit and about everyone coming together as one. At this point I notice how good their Southern American accents are and the acting is really good and throughout the show I found out that was true of all the actors.
We then meet Tom’s interracial family with has little children as well as a pregnant sister with a husband that seems like a hot mess. The mum is instantly perceived as a very strong woman and I already like it. These scenes with the family are fun to watch and we meet the quirky grandparents and the dynamics between everyone. They are all headed to California in the hopes of finding jobs and at this point a very weird musical number happens with men in stilts and I can’t say that I saw the point of this part other than scaring the living crap out of me with the excessively loud music and scream-like singing. But honestly I’d have to say that this bit was the only little bit I didn’t really like in the play, everything else was very impressive and entertaining which says a lot.
Without going too much in detail and risking spoiling it for people who haven’t seen it, I found the play equally as enthralling as it was very emotional. I think that they did a very good job at mixing the intense high-stress scenes with deeper, simpler scenes where you’d see a couple of characters talking about life. I thought that some of the things they touched on about the human capability to adapt and to push forward and keep going and about us all being one and the same and needing to come together were very beautiful. The contrast between the high level of enthusiasm of all the characters and their high hopes for the future at the beginning of the play compared to their shattered spirits that can only come through deep disillusionment in life was also heart breaking. However, I enjoyed that even at the end when so much had gone on and you could see that some of their dreams were never going to happen, there was still small glimpses of hope that kept you from being completely depressed.
I think some of the scenes were especially beautiful and well done, like the scene where the sons of the family go into the ‘lake’ built on the front of the stage, which also contained some male nudity which made my cheeks blush at little at how unexpected it was. Also when everyone has a big hoedown together and can be found singing and dancing in the midst of all the chaos and injustice and sadness around them. I especially liked the last scene, which I won’t mention for fear of spoiling it but it was so shocking but heart breaking and inspiring all at once. One stylistic choice which it’s worth mentioning is that for the most part of the play they would have one of the charact-ers sing a little solo piece to tell a bit of the story and I thought that was quite interesting. Also, the big see-through cages on stage seemed a bit weird to me at first but it was cool to see the creativity they showed with it, using it for widely different purposes and different scenes. I think altogether this was a very impressive adaptation of the American classic The Grapes of Wrath and I think that the very long clap at the end was a testament of that. I came out of the Nuffield thinking about all the suffering I’d seen and the superb acting made it feel all the more real but there was also something of a hope in me, that amidst all the suffering that’s when you can see little but very significant acts of compassion and that’s got to count for something.
The Grapes of Wrath is at the Nuffield until March 25th.