Library Theatre, Manchester
Review by David Chadderton
Humble Boy is billed as "a comedy about broken vows, failed hopes and the joys of beekeeping". It begins after the funeral of Felix Humble's father, a biology teacher and beekeeping enthusiast, which has brought Felix, a thirty-five-year-old research student in physics, home from university and he is reluctant to return. His brash, overpowering mother, fresh from her nose-job, intends to marry the vulgar father of Felix's ex-girlfriend a little too soon after her husband's death.
The play is a comedy and there are some very funny moments. However they are spread rather thinly, and it is the serious parts of the play that are unfocused and rather dull and do not tell a story interesting enough to sustain a two and a half hour (including the interval) play. There are discussions about beekeeping, discussions about quantum physics and string theory and discussions about families, but all are rather superficial and inconclusive. At the heart of this play is a story of a middle class boy who is academically gifted but emotionally immature because his un-motherly mother didn't give him enough attention when he was a child. Comparisons between the problems of this family and the life cycle of bees or the search for a unified theory of everything in physics do not add a great deal to this rather tired storyline. The comic moments, which range from clever wordplay to low farce and black comedy, are often nicely written and performed.
This production manages to serve the play quite well. The actors all play their roles well, in particular Jessica Lloyd as Felix's ex Rosie and Helen Blatch as the faithful old family friend Mercy, both of whom managed to bring the play to life whenever they came on stage in both their funny and their more serious scenes. Colin Prockter as the nice old man Jim seems quite at home pottering around the garden tending to the plants, and he pulls off the nice twist at the end involving his character very well. Judith Croft has designed a beautifully lush garden for the set, and Paul Gregory's sound and Richard Taylor's music are nicely atmospheric and blend well with the scenes. All these elements come effectively together to make a pleasing production from a perhaps slightly insubstantial storyline, featuring some touching and funny moments which it would be nice to see more of throughout.
"Humble Boy" runs until 1st May 2004
Philip Fisher reviewed the original 2001 production at the National Theatre