REVIEW: Humble Boy, University Drama Studio

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Charlotte Jones’s 2001 play has more than a casual nod towards Alan Ayckbourn. The setting in the Humble’s garden and the subject matter of domestic struggle are reminiscent of the London playwright.

Felix is a thirty-something whose obsessions veer between his late father’s bees and his own faltering astrophysics research. Jack Burhill intelligently portrays his tortured genius and barely contained neuroticism complete with convincing stutter. Alice Ordish plays the astonishingly insensitive, passive-aggressive mother, Flora. She is not angry with Felix for missing his father’s eulogy, she is incandescent with rage.

Felix in turn can be exceedingly dry. He identifies with the Romanian orphans in his charity work since he is halfway to orphan status himself.

Jones throws up plenty of amusing awkward family situations and the talented cast do brilliantly. Claire Sharp plays Felix’s ex-girlfriend and possible mother of his child, Rosie. It’s uncomfortable viewing watching Felix’s maladroit handling of her sexual advances. Add into the mix Stuart Gresham’s brilliant portrayal of rumbustious and volatile George, Rosie’s father and Flora’s lover combined with Flora’s lackey, Mercy, played by Laura Quinn and you have the elements of a truly thought provoking piece.

The most subtle player who ultimately transforms and heals the fractious relationship between mother and son is Jim the gardener, played by Ed Crowther. He is a therapeutic breath of fresh air and bears more than a passing resemblance to Felix’s late father.

Director Tom Lodge artfully links a series of complicated set pieces into a satisfying whole.