THE HONEY MAN
The Door, The REP, Birmingham, Saturday 21st February, 2015
Tyrone Huggins writes and stars as the eponymous beekeeper in his new play that covers a lot of old ground but also a lot of new.
The set-up is the unlikely friendship that develops between an old man and a teenage girl. They couldn’t be more opposite. He is elderly, wise and cut off from modern life, clinging to herbalism and attuned to nature. She is young, brash, plugged into the internet, and complaining about everything. It could be a sit-com scenario.
Honey Man is concerned; his bees are dying. The girl, Misty, is pissed off because her parents have split up and she might have to move out of the ancestral pile and go and live in a flat. Ah, diddums.
While we warm to Huggins immediately as he potters around, Beatrice Allen’s poor little rich girl is harder to swallow. Of course, as the character learns more about life and matures a bit, the hard edges are worn away, and we see how far she has come. She turns out to be not such of a bad egg after all. Who would have thought?
What the play does best is point up concerns that extend beyond the two characters. The mysterious death of the bees is a global problem, here standing as a reminder that we should heed the signs that are there in nature. We ignore these warnings at our peril. Misty’s recruitment to the cause, after she has weathered personal problems and taken her GCSEs, natch, may be too late. She is able to revive Honey Man after a nasty attack of bee stings, learning a natural remedy as she does so, bringing him back from the brink – but is it too late for her generation to do the same for the planet after the current generation has done so much to ruin it?
The focus of the play shifts from the future to the past. It turns out the two have links in the past. Misty gives guided tours of her stately home for pocket money but she hasn’t noticed there’s a black boy in the painting she spouts about so much. It takes Honey Man to point him out on a visit to her house for her birthday (I told you it was unlikely). And so the closing message is that those who have been painted out of history deserve to be seen, or else we don’t get the full picture.
Huggins packs a lot into his amusing and interesting script but some of the scenes seem too contrived. His performance is endearing and Beatrice Allen too does a good job, despite being hampered by some of her dialogue. Her ‘teen speak’ sounds totes awks in her rich girl voice. Imagine the cast of Made In Chelsea quoting rap lyrics.
Timothy Bird’s set design charmingly combines Honey Man’s ramshackle cottage with Misty’s aristocrat splendour, making excellent use of projected animations and a multi-purpose piece of scenery that serves as doors, bed, wardrobe and screen. The oil painting backdrop and the broken pieces of gilded frame make sense by the end, when we are drawn into the family portrait from the past. Emma Bernard directs, keeping us focussed when the script is a little muddied – a flashback scene is stilted and formal, the language a little too mannered but on the whole works well to differentiate between the past and the present.
All in all, The Honey Man satisfies without overdoing the sweetness. Straightforward in both form and content, it is nevertheless an engaging piece with a lot of warmth and a few things to say.