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The Birds and the Bees at New Wolsey, Ipswich – review

Mark Crawford's comedy opens in Ipswich

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Richard McIver
© Mike Kwasniak

The Birds and the Bees is a razor-sharp, steamy and sexually-charged new comedy by Mark Crawford (with additional material by James McDermott) concerns life, relationships and the things that can make or break them; this cleverly crafted and paced play is sure to allow you to leave your troubles at the door and soon be laughing your way through this light-hearted outlook on life.

Set in a picturesque small house in the East Anglian countryside, we meet spiky beekeeper Gail, her humorous neighbour Earl, the spritely scientific researcher student Ben and her soon-to-be-divorced daughter Sarah. Together, the four go on a journey of self-discovery, and along the way, things get a little heated between the pairs - and not just in conversation.

Gail is a woman who appears to have given up; she drifts along with the community around her and focuses on her settled life surrounded by the farm and her honeybees, which are dropping like flies. Having been alone for so long since her husband left, it's as though she's forgotten how to live and to love. The guarded exterior versus the internal fragility that Louise Gold brings to this character is incredible, you would be hard-pushed to not fall in love with how she centres this story.

Tension soon arises for Gail when her daughter Sarah arrives to move in after crashing down from a broken marriage, and the pair are forced to find a way of making things work; but that isn't always easy when there's a complex mother-daughter dynamic. Laura Doddington takes us on a real journey with Sarah, from broken ex-wife to new mum, and despite many-a-hardship her spirit often remains upbeat.

Things continue to prove challenging for Gail when friendly banter occurs with sharp-witted neighbour Earl, as they debate on whether her bees are the cause of his decline in sugar beet yield or whether his pesticide use is the cause of her bee downfall. Siôn Tudor Owen steals the show with his dorkish macho-man appearance and his ‘no strings attached' look on relationships. Owen's crack-of-the-whip comic timing is a real highlight through-out.

Meanwhile, city-dwelling bio-student Ben is stuck in the middle of it all studying the reasons behind the decline in Gail's bee colony. Twenty-three years old and just discovering the true meaning behind ‘the birds and the bees', Richard McIver brings a real charm and innocence to Ben. By the end of the play, he is the one that teaches them all a lesson in how life can't always be planned out the way we think it should be.

Similar to the way life itself works, the story unfolds in a series of ‘acts' - with each scene seeming to have a clear-cut focus on where it's heading, though still packed with plenty of surprises along the way. The pace drifts between fast and slow, both broken and flowing; but it worked beautifully. The shifts between drama and comedy were spot-on, as amidst the hormone-fuelled hilarity, there were some really emotional and hard-hitting moments. It's excellently directed by Peter Rowe, and it's the type of play that makes you stop to think about life and whether you're doing it right, but equally that there is no right way to do life and that's how it's meant to be.