Wednesday, 3 September 2003

Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones, MTC, Sept 3, 2003

Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones   
Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Sept 3 to October 4, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Humble Boy, written by Charlotte Jones, is like an older style drawing room comedy written in contemporary England.

It boasts a collection of eccentric characters in a village in the Cotswolds.  and peels back the curtains on their only very slightly murky and ordinary lives.

There is Felix,  a stammering astrophysicist,  his vain and supercilious mother, Flora,  (Julia Blake) her jovial, working class lover, George,  (Linal Haft) and Flora's daffy and devoted spinster companion, Mercy.  (Beverley Dunn)

Jones' concession to the modern world, apart from Flora's nose job, is George's daughter, Rosie,  (Rebekah Stone) who is a cynical, robust single mother. The play is an inoffensive light comedy with exceptionally good performances from the ensemble.

Director, Kate Cherry,  has staged it in a beautifully realistic English garden designed by the late Tony Tripp  and lit evocatively by David Murray  with original composition by David Chesworth.

Felix comes home from Cambridge  for his father, James' funeral. He finds not only that his childhood stammer returns but that his mother is to marry George, the local bus company owner. His grief is focussed on James' beehives that Flora eliminated. His only consolation is that the mysterious gardener (Terry Norris) says that one hive escaped.

Jones' script is entertaining but never challenging. There are jokes and character quirks with minor twists in the plot but it is rarely surprising.

Significant issues of grief, abandonment, disillusionment and mental disorder arise but are investigated superficially. Only in the last scenes do we feel moved or do the issues reach greater depths. Jones could be writing for a BBC light comedy.

The central relationship is that of Flora and Felix. It is a classic dysfunctional English mother-son relationship. Blake manages to make us love and hate the elegant and conceited Flora. Her comic delivery is impeccable as she parades through the landscape of her husband's scented garden. Her final emotional speech is beautifully rendered.

Haft captures the broad comic qualities of lovelorn George with gusto and Bower is suitably whining and weak as Felix. Dunn is a magnificent second fiddle as Mercy and received applause for her wonderful delivery of Mercy's pre-lunch prayer.

Humble Boy is a comfortable and amusing night in the theatre. Its greatest asset is its cast.

By Kate Herbert

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