This week I am appearing in Humble Boy, by Charlotte Jones, at Progress Theatre, Reading.
You should Buy Tickets.
In this comedy about love, lies and bees, astrophysicist Felix Humble returns home for the funeral of father James to find that his mother has not only discarded all of his father’s belongings along with his beloved bees – but has gotten a little too friendly with his ex-girlfriend’s father…
If you are not familiar with the play, it won the 2001 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play. It deals with bees, botany, string theory, Glen Miller, love and grief in a style reminiscent of Tom Stoppard. Some elements of the plot are inspired by Hamlet, but unlike that play, it is largely comedic and in some places farcical.
In a recent TV documentary, Philomena Clunk talks of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and its “famous speech about bees”. This may have been what Charlotte Jones was thinking of when she took the Bard’s play as her inspiration for Humble Boy. In both plays, a young(ish) man returns home for the funeral of his father, only to find that his mother has found solace in the arms of another man – coarser and less noble – with what seems to be unseemly haste. Suicide is contemplated. Prince Hamlet is unsure whether to be, or not to be. Felix Humble cannot even say “be” without stuttering.
There are other parallels. A character speaks of flowers and their meanings. There is a girlfriend, spurned – but their reactions are very different. Ophelia is told to “get thee to a nunnery”. Rosie wonders if Felix expected her to “hie herself to a nunnery”.
And so on. A vacillating son challenges an overbearing mother. In one play a skull appears, in the other, skulls are spoken of. There is a duel of sorts. We won’t go on: if you know your Hamlet, you will enjoy spotting the parallels and references for yourself, including at least one biggie not mentioned here. If Shakespeare’s famous tragedy has passed you by, fear not: you will still be able to enjoy Charlotte Jones’ comedy just for itself.