Brian Beacom

RICHARD Keightley isn’t an actor who chooses the path most travelled.

His father, also Richard, was an army Colonel, and his grandfather General Sir Charles Keightley.

His uncle was also a member of the top brass and indeed the army career was the first choice of his wife’s family.

Now, it would have been all to easy for Richard to take himself off to Sandhurst and save the world.

As it is, he’s taking us into the world of John Steinbeck, of California in Depression times, and taking to the stage in the classic tale, Of Mice and Men.

“I’ve wanted to act since I was at school,” says Richard. “I found an old diary recently from my gap year and it reveals how keen I was to act.

“I didn’t remember this because I actually went off to university to study Maths, although I wasn’t one of those kids who wanted to perform from the age of three.”

The army didn’t hold an appeal. Richard didn’t feel pressured to fall in, as it were.

“No, one of my brothers is a criminal barrister and my father was open-minded about what we would do with our lives.

“I think it’s because he realised there were other things he could have done perhaps, rather than go into the army.”

Yes, but here he was having to contend with one of his sons taking off to Luvvyland, where men wear make-up and dress up and flouncing on stage?

“Yes, but there is a performer inside all of us, to a greater or lesser extent,” he says, grinning.

“And my dad loved telling stories, he was a natural raconteur. He’s not against performing at all.”

What Richard’s parents wanted to know was he was sure of his intent.

“They realised it’s not the most reliable career. But that sorted, they were one hundred percent behind me.”

Now, Richard gets to play characters such as George.

“George is more of a mountain to climb than anticipated,” he admits of the character. “But the way he drives the play in the first half is absolutely fabulous and I’m having a great time doing it.”

Richard adds; “When you think of the connection the two characters have, it’s a beautiful story.”

George and Lennie are two migrant ranch workers who dream of owning their own ranch.

George aspires to be his own boss and most importantly to be ‘somebody’.

Gentle Giant Lennie aspires to be with George and join him in his Eden, but - the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry.

“What I love about the relationship is there’s a mutual support system going on.

“George needs Lennie just as much, if not more, for companionship.”

Richard adds; “What this play is about people who crave friendship and connection And there are parallels with today in terms of social isolation.

“And Lennie has a real purity, no malice in him whatsoever, and it’s so positive to be around that sort of person.”

Richard has had to discover Steinbeck. “I wasn’t always a fan. I didn’t do English A Level or anything like that, but recently I’ve been cast in a lot more American plays and it’s made me realise I have to explore the American literary cannon a lot more.

“And recently I’ve been reading East of Eden, which is set in the Salinas Valley, where George and Lenny are from. And it’s fabulous.”

There have been arguments that Of Mice and Men may not play out without attracting the static of political correctness complaint.

There are lines in the play which could be deemed to be racist by those with very sensitive ears.

“Yes, well the director did mention there have been problems in that some did see it as a racist play.

“But I think the definition of racism is having a negative, or prejudiced view of other races. But this play doesn’t.

“Some of the characters may use racist slurs, but the black character, for example, is allowed to express his view as well. He explains how he feels marginalised.

“And in some ways, the play reveals how far we have come as a society, but also how far we haven’t come.

“It also looks at how we treat women as well when Curley’s wife has the chance to speak her mind.”

Richard adds; “If it makes people uncomfortable, that’s a good thing. But the language is not gratuitous in any way.”

It’s not hard to discern the actor is in the world he loves.

“I love theatre. It’s the fact it’s slightly different every time. It’s a real challenge.”

It’s offered him the chance to tour the world, to see the Far East with The Mousetrap, for example, to travel to Central America and Israel.

He adds, smiling; “I’ve been so lucky. And now I get the chance to see the UK, which haven’t done before.

“I’m certainly in the right job.”

*Of Mice and Men, the Theatre Royal, until Saturday.