Any play which uses bees as a metaphor for the family structure with
smatterings of scientific theory and references to Hamlet may seem
like a hard sell. But playwright of the moment, Charlotte Jones had an
unlikely hit with this tale of bee keeping and family strife at the National
and the West End two years ago. Audiences in Manchester are finally
given the chance to see if this play is the bee's knees. (sorry!).
Felix Humble (Ian Midlane) returns reluctantly to his family home following
the death of his beloved father. His mother, Flora (Anna Nicholas) is
determined to move on and embark on a relationship with wide boy, George
Stephen McKenna. Felix clashes with his vain mother and seeks solace in
the arms of George's feisty daughter, Rosie (Jessica Lloyd). But she is set
to cause even more turmoil in the Humbles' English Country Garden.
Jones' marvellous writing leaves the audience laughing at the saddest of
situations. One scene featuring the overweight, depressed Felix sat holding
his father's ashes in a honey pot is enlivened by the line: "He looks like
Winnie- the bloody- Pooh!" During a family meal the topic of the
conversation turns to the best method of suicide. Contemplating the pros and
cons of using a gas oven, Flora says: "Anything is preferable to cleaning
it!" These comic gems are delivered with aplomb by the splendid cast.
Midlane stutters sensitively as Felix, the misunderstood, witty genius who
cannot find the scientific code for love. Nicholas plays Flora as a
monster but also displays her fragility perfectly, seeming close to tears
during confrontational scenes. Lloyd plays sassy but ultimately lonely
Rosie with ease, particularly when she has to fight back against the
snobbish Humble family. Colin Prockter provides the play with its heart as
the mysterious gardener. Helen Blatch is delightfully dotty as Mercy, the
put upon next door neighbour with a heart of gold. Only McKenna tends to
lose his way slightly giving a performance that is too chuckle-some for a
black comedy. He lacks the sharpness of the other performers.
Judith Croft's marvellous set brings warmth and beauty to the stage as a
backdrop to the chaos within the family hive. At times Jones seems to
have too many ideas but thanks to Roger Haines' fluid direction, and
engaging chemistry, Humble Boy adds up to a great evening of theatre.