Review by Alan Shepley
The Rep’s latest offering of “Humble Boy” directed with deft touch by Kerrin White is both an interesting and curious play. Director White has assembled an evenly talented most able cast all of whom inhabit well drawn diverse characters. Felix Humble (Nick Endenburg) has returned home to attend his father’s funeral. He is a boffin, a particularly apt descriptor for a man immersed within his own astrophysicist universe. He is a young man with more than his share of emotional baggage and hence ill-equipped to deal with feelings. He seems hesitant, he stammers at times and words rhyming with his surname; bumble, fumble, jumble and even crumble can all variously be applied to him.
It is the ever present metaphor (and occasional physical presence) of his late father’s bees that pervades the atmosphere. Whist his mother has got rid of the bees, an empty hive remains as a dominant memorial, a tribute to the beautifully complex regimented rules necessary for productivity and swarm survival. Felix’s mother Flora (an impressive and imposing Celine O’Leary) is at best ambivalent to her garden, to nature, and to her late husband. She is utterly disappointed in her son, in his physical appearance and in what she perceives as a plethora of weaknesses. She is moving on. In particular she’s planning to move on with George Pye (a rambunctious, loud and persistent Christopher Leech). Rather than ascribe to anything like the Big Bang theory, George is an aficionado of the Big Band theory! He enters with his personal headphone sound system at full blast. Is it perchance a Pye system? He hankers after Flora in the most unsubtle of ways suggesting the relationship is not new. He cannot abide Felix and makes it patently clear that he should stay right away from his daughter Rosie (Phoebe Wilson). Phoebe gives a well modulated and honest performance. I remain a little puzzled as to Rosie’s insistent lustful approaches to an unsuspecting Felix. After a disastrous parting seven years earlier and the life challenges she has met and overcome within that time, it just didn’t make sense to me. Felix has quite a bit to answer for and he, at the very least, suspects that.
Flora’s most loyal friend, complete with lashings of servility is Mercy Lott expertly realised as being super stoic and obedient by Rhonda Grill. Mercy is arguably the most likeable character at the garden party. She always waits in the wings for recognition (from George Pye in particular so we learn) and is constantly treated abominably by Flora Humble. At the luncheon, for which she seems to be the only provider of food, Mercy takes completely unplanned and totally unsuspected revenge on the gathering during an amusing sequence of events. It is only we the audience who can savour the poetic justice at play here. Her gazpacho recipe is to die for! The garden setting, redolent of ripe apples and roses in full bloom produces an almost tangible olfactory experience, a primary sense that Flora has lost as a result of her recent nose job. Or is it?
I found the heady mix of of reconciliation and, maybe, redemption for mother and son a little curious. Aided and abetted by Jim the Gardener (a serene and wise Brian Knox) it seems that an awful lot of “stuff” falls into place at the end. Maybe that is symbolic of the pure essence of royal jelly giving rise to human acceptance and forgiveness. It’s certainly nice to think so! I found the characters and their relationships (both real and ethereal) quite engaging. Enough humour peppered the piece for the audience to react accordingly and the obvious stage presence of the cast kept a grip on our concentration throughout. “Humble Boy” is certainly food for thought, and, with summer coming on, I really must revive my culinary interest in the preparation of cold soup. Preferably with pimento!