Splendid acting and pithy direction give Humble Boy a real buzz at the Bear Pit Theatre
REVIEW: Steve Sutherland. PHOTOS: David Fawbert
You know how Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood takes the Charles Manson murders and, with an audacious twist, puts the world to rights and conjures up a fairytale ending? Well, Humble Boy kind of employs the same trick with Hamlet. Felix Humble - for whom the play is named - is a dissolute senior student with a spreading girth and an occasional stress-related stutter played by Richard Sandle-Keynes. He's home from college to attend his father’s funeral and has bottled it when it came to delivering the eulogy. His mother, Flora, played by Pamela Hickson, is the snobbish adulteress with a new nose job, frustrated with her lot in life, displaced from a youthful modelling career in the big smoke to too many long years enduring a humdrum middle-class existence in the Cotswolds. George Pye, played by Davis Derrington, is her ageing cuckolder, a coarse widower with an affection for Glen Miller. Rosie Pye, played by Zoe Mortimer, is his daughter, the Ophelia of the piece, who was once romantically entangled with Alex until he dumped her to pursue his scientific studies. Mercy Lott is a salt-of-the-earth put-upon spinster, played by Charlotte Froud, and Jim The Gardener is played by David Gresham.
The dead dad, by the way, was a beekeeper and there’s tons in the play about bees which pertains to symbolism but also let in a stream of rather bothersome puns to buzz through the production.
It must be said the performers are unanimously splendid and the axis of the work, set in 1997 and written by Charlotte Jones in 2001, skews slightly from Shakespeare with the action revolving more around the narcissistic mother than the bumbling boy. It’s all pithily directed by Christopher Dobson and the presentation is spirited but the play itself is neither as funny nor as poignant as it obviously thinks it is and comes over a bit pleased with itself. As someone who struggled to deliver a speech at both his parents’ funerals with any emotional heft, Humble Boy did manage to touch a nerve or two in me but in updating Hamlet and turning it into a modern domestic drama with a happy-ish outcome, the play’s failing is that it relies on monologue after monologue to emphasise the characters' plights. And while some of these raise a chuckle or two, most seem somewhat stagey and artificial.
What is it they say? You can pick your friends but you can’t choose your family. God help us, true that.
The show runs until 11th February