‘Humble Boy’ review

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A welcome revival for Charlotte Jones's Home Counties ‘Hamlet’ riff

Richmond is leafy in both senses: suburban and posh, and also just round the corner from the botanical delights of Kew Gardens. This revival of Charlotte Jones’s 2001 garden party comedy ‘Humble Boy’ brings a bit of the green into the theatre, with a set design that’s alive with grass, bushes and creepers (all that’s missing is a sprinkler system to keep the dozing matinee audience fresh).

Her story is basically ‘Hamlet’ for the Home Counties. Felix’s dad is dead, so he’s back at the family home, where his mother looks dangerously like she’s landed a new squeeze (although he’s the impresario of a fleet of coaches, not a king). Felix (a poignantly shambling Jonathan Broadbent) is depressed, seeing things, and showing a worrying compulsion to describe everything in the language of his academic specialism in astrophysics. Meanwhile, his mother Flora is cutting loose by banishing her dead husband’s bees and getting a nose job: Belinda Lang’s performance flits from pathos to fearsome, wiry tyranny.

Orange Tree boss Paul Miller’s production, staged in the round, fizzes over with energy and half-concealed menace. Selina Cadell is especially memorable as poor Mercy, a local woman who’s sucked into this warped clan’s disagreements, then finally loses her rag while saying grace over gazpacho.

This isn’t the kind of show that’ll bring new audiences rushing to the Orange Tree Theatre’s doors: it’s theatre in the sort of wordy, witty, very English, Thomas Stoppard vein that’s intellectually dizzying rather than pulse-racing. And arguably, it falls into the same trap as ‘Hamlet’, of disproportionately punishing a mother who dares to move on.  But as lunch in the garden turns rotten, its power starts to bite, and Jones tears this family apart with the precision of a secateur-wielding botanist.

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