Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Fine cast keep things buzzing

Home again: Felix Humble, played by Richard Cogzell returns after the death of his beekeeping father

Humble Boy

Highbury Players

Highbury Little Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


CHARLOTTE Jones' Humble Boy, set in the back garden of middle class, middle England, apparently won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for best new play in 2001.

It's hard to imagine how because it is laden with so many random themes and odd character traits that it feels like it's still a first draft.

Take for instance the meeting of the one-time lovers Rosie Pye (Hannah Parry) and the main character Felix Humble, ably played by (Richard Cogzell) who reunite after seven years.

Unbeknown to Felix she has had and raised his illegitimate child all alone, proclaims she no longer loves him, notes he is overweight and then, although he protests, promptly drags him off to the `long grass' to have sex.   If this is life in the Cotswolds then I am moving there as soon as possible.

So, Astrophysicist Felix has returned to the family home following the death of his beekeeping father James Humble. He is, among other things, upset to find his uncaring mother, Flora, has got rid of all of his father's belongings including the noisy `Humble  bees.'

The first act goes through the process of everyone explaining their past grievances and future intentions to each other. The mysterious gardener Jim, played by Malcolm Robertshaw is ignored by everyone, but is the only one who listens to and advises Felix.

Felix with his mother Flora played by Denise Phillips

Also in the garden there's Mercy, the doting friend of Flora, Rosie Pye the aforementioned old flame of Felix and her boozy, blaspheming father George Pye.

Georgy has, again unbeknown to Felix, been having an affair with his mother for six years and we are told later it's with the full approval of her deceased husband.  Why he should allow such a thing when we finally get to know the extent his love for her is either oddly devised or perhaps another reason to live in the Cotswolds.  

Humble Boy has some lofty intentions as it is strewn with explanations of advanced physics, botanical Latin and astronomy.

The author has been accused of referencing Shakespeare's play on the King of Denmark but often it's more ham fisted than Hamlet. The first Act is largely spent bringing us all up to speed on past life amongst the shrubbery of shrubs. Once all that's out of the way the second Act begins the play in earnest.

Denise Phillips was quite effective as the waspish Flora Humble turning nicely into honey when the extent of her deceased husbands' romantic legacy is finally revealed. Sheila Knapman as the nervous friend Mercy, had her moment when she delivered a well timed and comical mealtime grace. Nigel Higgs as Georgy Pye revelled in the opportunity to get drunk and swear a lot although a final fight scene with Felix was a little too Benny Hill to take seriously.

There are a good few laughs along the way but the final 15 minutes is where the real drama happens and it is both touching, surprising and very well staged.

It had me wishing that they had somehow grown that kind of connection more often and planted it earlier on in the production. Whilst the writing seems divisive and in need of a good pruning, full credit must be given to the Highbury Players who poured their hearts into this performance to keep the atmosphere buzzing and make some sense of it all. To 31-03-12

Jeff Grant

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate