Opening in the Elphick Stage at this year’s 24:7 Theatre Festival is The Fading Hum, written by Charlotte Essex and directed by Laura Keefe. The concept of the play is that it explores big issues such as guilt, death and estrangement. Robin unexpectedly returns to his brother’s farm and family home, coinciding with the mysterious disappearance of Ted’s bees. Melissa, from the National Bee Unit, steps in to solve the mystery, bringing her own secrecy and intrigue with her.
There are strong, committed performances from all three actors, but Jay Taylor’s truthful portrayal of Ted is the glue holding the production together. Jack Monaghan’s interpretation of the selfish, unreliable and juvenile Robin contrasts that of his dependable elder brother. Though Antonia Kinlay’s performance as Melissa is understated and engaging, the character is less well developed and Kinlay has some unbelievable mountains to climb in terms of Melissa’s story. The arrival of a stranger in a family home where tensions are already raised would be intriguing enough, but the following plot takes an unnecessarily far-fetched turn, disengaging the audience from what could be a simple tale of sibling rivalry.
Keefe’s direction is simple but unimaginative, though there are obvious constraints with the space, script and nature of the festival. Any action taking place stage left, near the bee hive – a fundamental focus of the story, was lost in poor lighting.
This is Essex’s first ever stage play, having previously written only for television. Interestingly it struck me that the play lent itself very much to radio, perhaps even more so than the stage, as certain moments were too awkward and unbelievable to watch. That said it is clear that Charlotte has a promising playwrighting future ahead, in whichever medium she works. The Fading Hum has already been short-listed for the Nick Darke Award, a prize to help a young writer finish their environment-related piece of writing.