HUMBLE BOY To 17 April.


by Charlotte Jones.

New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 17 April 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 17 April 2.15pm.
Audio-described 17 April 2.15pm.
Captioned 13 April.
Post-show discussion 13 April.
Run 2hr 35min One interval.

TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 April.

Floral splendour and comic high-spot outstrip character relationships.
Does Charlotte Jones use or exploit Hamlet in her 2001 play? Set in an English garden (colourfully recreated by designer Liz Cooke, with plentiful blooms around a lawn and parterre), it shows Felix Humble, his astrophysical studies temporarily interrupted by his father’s funeral, bulky and brooding (“fat”, if not "scant of breath", as Hamlet’s described by his mum) as he sulks around the garden.

“Ma” as he calls her, evoking a sense of the security in this garden before his father’s death, is about to marry coach-operator George Pye. There’s no post-Shakespearean suggestion George did away with Flora’s first husband, but Andy Hockley’s unsophisticated, unreflective character, ears plugged near-constantly into Glen Miller, would sound the knell for the home life Felix has known.

Pye’s the opposite of the calm, self-aware father whose spirit comforts his son while working quietly on the garden he created during his life. The bees he kept are removed under George’s influence in the stylised opening to Theresa Heskins’ production, where the sounds of Houston mission control, plus white-suited, helmeted figures, suggest astronauts as much as apiarists.

Yet Humble senior and some bees eventually return to save Felix and bring retribution in this revenge comedy. If the impact’s more comic than character-related, that’s partly owing to Martin Miller’ gloomy Felix. It’s a tough task; Hamlet without the poetry would be morose and cruel (Felix has absented himself from his daughter Felicity awhile – in fact, he hadn’t realised he’d got George Pye’s daughter pregnant). It would take the combined lightness and speculative intensity of Simon Russell-Beale (who created the role) to bring it off.

Carol Royle’s Flora has an aptly bemused, bereaved air, mixed with frustration at her son. But there’s little sense of any chemistry bonding her to Hockley’s coarse ebullience. Otherwise, the second act comedy comes neatly to the boil, the male eruption of intellectual versus visceral is deftly staged, without the characters moving much beyond the efficiently acted into people who concern us. It’s always lovely to look at, but it would be delightful to know these characters in a more believable depth.

Rosie Pye: Clare Calbraith.
George Pye: Andy Hockley.
Felix Humble: Martin Miller.
Mercy Lott: Julia Munrow.
Jim: Michael O’Connor.
Flora Humble: Carol Royle.

Director: Theresa Heskins.
Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.

2010-04-09 12:29:38

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