Woy Woy Little Theatre’s first play of the season is Humble Boy, a comedic drama by Charlotte Jones – a promising new playwright whose work has been compared with Alan Ayckbourn and Tom Stoppard.* Set against the idyllic backdrop of a traditional English country garden it explores the less than ideal relationships of an upper-middle class family. Felix Humble is a socially challenged student of astrophysics, home from University to attend the funeral of his apiarist father, but he is troubled by the absence of his father’s beloved bees. Electing to stay home for the summer, he spends his time reflecting on memories of his parents and fears of future academic failure while, in the present, he must deal with the attentions of his former girlfriend and his disapproval of his mother’s suitor. But he is unprepared for revelations that orbit an awkward dinner party. As home truths are unveiled and tempers flare, will family tragedy ensue?
Humble Boy won a Critics’ Award for Best New Play in 2001.* Jones’ script is an intelligent and clever exploration of character and relationship. She exploits the humour and drama inherent in the family dynamic while weaving threads of Chaos Theory, Apiary and gardening into an amusingly illustrative tapestry, and delighting with the occasional artfully contrived pun. Her characters are well defined yet complex, and their backstories are slowly and carefully revealed to provide context for their developing conflict. Meanwhile subtle Shakespearian parallels lend perspective by juxtaposing the microcosm of their troubles against the high drama of Hamlet’s most famously dysfunctional family.
Woy Woy’s production is brought to us by award winning director, Annie Bilton, whose many years of dramatic experience include work in television as well as on stage and she has taught, acted and directed theatre both locally and internationally. Her Central Coast productions include her stunning adaptation of Antigone, which was staged in Gosford in 2014, and she has been instrumental in pioneering Woy Woy’s exciting annual FLASH festival. She has assembled a cast of the Coast’s most accomplished actors who collectively boast a slew of awards and credits in both amateur and professional entertainment. After appearing in WWLT’s memorable productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Odd Couple, Keith Conway has stepped up to fill the lead role of Felix, while the inimitable Yvonne Berry-Porter plays his flamboyant mother, Flora. Greg Buist is entertainingly obnoxious as her brash lover, George, and Sierra Phillips plays his daughter, an emancipated modern-day Ophelia. Seasoned actor, Paul Russell has great presence in the enigmatic role of Flora’s gardener, and the talented Terry Collins makes a very welcome return to the stage to play Flora’s doting friend, Mercy. All the cast move effortlessly between the play’s comic and dramatic moments and all give particularly moving performances in the final act.
The characterizations are assisted by well-chosen costuming that accentuates the varied personalities, and the technical team help to create scene with sound and lighting effects and apt music choices. Some special praise is due to the striking scenery and stage dressing, which evoke the country garden setting with immediacy and texture. I’m always admiring of the innovative and imaginative ways WWLT work their intimate and unusual performance space. On this occasion the stage was constructed in co-operation with Gosford Musical Society and designed by Daryl Kirkness whose skills and talents are well known to GMS audiences. It’s great to see our local theatrical companies working together in this way. Well done, Daryl, and kudos to everyone involved in another high quality production from the Woy Woy team.
Humble Boy continues at the Peninsula Theatre until Sunday March 6th. Tickets are available online at woywoylt.com.au along with more information about the play and links to interviews with the cast.
*Biographical details courtesy of Wikipedia. Image courtesy of WWLT publicity.