Reviewed by Barry Lenny
The Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society closes their year with Humble Boy, written by Charlotte Jones, a modern version, loosely derived from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is also a condensed piece, with only six characters, and all set in the garden of the family home in the Cotswolds during the summer of 1997. The work is directed by Kerrin White, who also designed the detailed set. He shows a good feel for comedy, making use of all the quirky twists and turns in the script.
Like Hamlet, Felix Humble returns to the family home after several years away, working as a research fellow, a theoretical astrophysicist, at Cambridge University. He has arrived to attend his father, James’s, funeral, which he does, inappropriately dressed, and running away, unable to deliver a eulogy. He finds that his mother, Flora, is planning to marry George Pye, a close friend of the family, an obnoxious widower, who also happens to be the father of Rosie, the girl that Felix left behind. There is also Mercy Lott, a timid little woman who seems to have attached herself to Flora, and Jim, the gardener. Unlike the Bard’s play, however, Felix’s father was not murdered, nobody dies, and there is plenty of comedy.
The play covers a wide range of topics, from the obvious, the dysfunctional relationships between these thoroughly unlikeable people, to apiary and horticulture, black holes, and through to superstring theory, and it also includes black comedy surrounding the storage of the deceased’s ashes.
On opening night, perhaps due to nerves, it seemed to take some time to settle in, starting with rather stilted lines and moves, with the characters gradually emerging as the play progressed. Delivery of the lines showed frequent, momentary hesitations and the occasional correction. As the cast relaxed into their roles, it all became more engaging, and funnier, and should get better still by the next performance.
Felix is played by Nick Endenburg, neatly negotiating all of the emotional ups and downs that circumstances throw at his character, and there are plenty of them, coming with relentless regularity.
Celine O’Leary plays the self-centred Flora, who thinks nothing of removing every sign that her husband had ever existed in the family home, particularly disposing of the bees that he kept in the garden. She is a control freak, causing and increasing the level of dissent around her.
George Pye is played by Christopher Leech, presenting a loudmouthed, opinionated, appalling excuse for a human being, the complete opposite to the late James, giving Endenburg’s Felix plenty to respond to.
The role of Rosie is taken by Phoebe Wilson, the ex-girlfriend who has moved on, and who has news and surprises for Felix, a strong, independent, and a little manipulative young woman.
Rhonda Grill is nicely dithery and fragile as Mercy, and Brian Knott is beautifully enigmatic as the gardener.
The actions, reactions, and interactions between these characters are volatile, and you probably wouldn’t want to meet any of this lot in real life.
The lighting design is by the prolific, Richard Parkhill, with sound by Ray Trowbridge, which includes the music of Glenn Miller and, no surprises here, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Flight of the Bumble Bee.
There are secrets to be revealed along the way, and a further reference to Hamlet, but you’ll need to buy a ticket to learn about all of that.