Robert Tanitch reviews Humble Boy at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, Surrey
Charlotte Jones’s play premiered on a traverse stage at the National Theatre in 2001 and transferred to the West End and a proscenium arch theatre. It won the Critics Circle Award for Best New Play.
It now gets an excellent in-the-round revival from Paul Miller. The pretty garden setting is designed by Simon Daw.
Felix Humble (Jonathan Broadbent), a 35-year-old astrophysicist, comes home for his father’s funeral, to find that his mother (Belinda Lang), who has just had a nose job, has quickly come to terms with his death and is about to marry her lover (Paul Bradley), a breezy vulgarian, who runs a fleet of coaches, and whom he loathes.
His father was a beekeeper and his bees have gone. Will Felix be stung into action? Can he connect with his un-motherly mother? Will the quarrels with his future father-in-law end in a big bang?
Will he disappear into a black hole of despair? Will he discover the unifying explanation of the universe before he commits suicide?
The production has a bee’s knees cast. Belinda Lang, very stylish, plays Queen Bee to Jonathan Broadbent’s stuttering, crumpled, overweight Bumble Bee. It’s a modern Gertrude/Hamlet relationship.
To bee or not to bee, that is the question…
Rebekah Hinds is the girlfriend Felix dumped seven years ago and the mother of the child he never knew he had. Christopher Ravenscroft is the gardener, a gentle, charming soothing presence.
Selina Cadell is a well-intentioned timid woman, easily flustered, and she has two hilarious scenes. The first is when, thinking a pot on the dinner table contains seasoning, she mixes its contents in the soup, only to learn that the pot is an urn containing the dead father’s ashes.
Charlotte Jones’ witty script and the excellent acting are going to give Orange Tree audiences a lot of pleasure.