Sunshine, bees and flowers. An idyllic scene. Yet Humble Boy is a comedic drama that explores grief, guilt and grudges. Felix Humble returns to his family home in the Cotswolds following the death of his father. His arrival triggers moments of emotional turmoil and lucidity for both him and his contentious mother, Flora (superlatively portrayed by Belinda Lang). She is about to wed her long term lover, George Pye (this play is heavy on nuggets of symbolic word-play), despite being in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. She is especially perturbed by her ageing looks and critical of socially inept Felix, portrayed by Jonathan Broadbent as a slightly on the spectrum theoretical physicist. Rather than offering him love or understanding he is often met with disdain. Felix’s resentment towards his mother’s relationship also takes centre stage, as he relies on the language of science to express his layered emotions.
The threads of this witty script are tangled even more by Felix’s past relationship with George’s daughter Rosie. Yet the audience is never confused as to what is going on. Dramatic irony is the order of the day, serving up hilarity and sympathy. Selina Cadell succeeds in conjuring some of the funniest moments in the play, as Flora’s long suffering best-friend-cum-faithful- servant, Mercy. She embodies a pitch perfect combination of terminal optimism and unassuming obliviousness. The set of the wonderful Orange Tree theatre is transformed into a “middle class, middle-England” flower garden. This combined with clever script and frightfully English characters brings to mind a modernised, Freudian, Oscar Wilde-esque affair.
Originally performed at the National Theatre in 2001, Humble Boy loses none of it’s comic timing. Inspired by her experiences at Oxford as well as Hamlet and Professor Brian Cox chatting about string theory on radio 4, Charlotte Jones’ script is imaginative and full of imagery. She encapsulates the setting of her play in an interview with the the Orange Tree theatre; a beautiful and tragic portrait of living “a long way from London and a long way from the coast” surrounded by “antique shops and broken dreams”.