John Caird's production of Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy is certainly a stylish production. A delightful set (Tim Hatley), good cast, effective lighting (Paul Pyant) and music (Joe Cutler) and a clever script. All the right ingredients, but does it produce a good evening of theatre?
The play introduces us to a family coping in the aftermath of the death of The father. His wife Flora, an ex-model, and son Felix, a theoretical astro-physicist, seem to have no way to communicate. Flora (Hayley Mills) is self-obsessed and superficial, Felix (Hugh Sachs - whose performance I greatly enjoyed) is at a crisis point in his search for the next step in the unification theory that will bring together quantum mechanics and relativity (no physics degree necessary!).
As the play progresses, we find out, as does Felix, that his mother has had a long term affair with George (Paul Hecht) a local coach operator whose daughter Rosie (Carla Lang in a creditable first major role) had an affair with Felix many years before. Actually, as Felix finds out, whilst Rosie has now come to terms with being dumped by him, he was never told that he has a daughter, now seven. The gaps between these relationships are filled by the enigmatic gardener (John Burgess) and Flora's good companion Mercy (Brigit Forsyth). It is Mercy's role to bring some light relief, and pathos, into this play and Forsyth does that with great style.
The play speaks to many issues; family life, making your mark and finding your own meaning in the world, it touches on both the great themes of existence and the minutiae of daily activity.
Perhaps in the touring version there is not always the stage space allowed for the original. Certainly, in the version I saw the actors did seem to be standing in a line across stage talking to each other rather too often. The apple didn't fall, what a shame, a circle not closed and an opportunity missed, but it just didn't happen that night.
Don't get me wrong - this was a good night's theatre - but there is something missing, some unifying force that would have made it great. By the end, I felt like Felix, in that I'd seen all the pieces of the puzzle, but just couldn't find the equations to put them together.
- Robert Iles (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bath)