Foxgloves, wisteria, cornflowers, violets, roses. Paul Miller’s production of Humble Boy is set in an immaculate English garden.
When Felix Humble (Jonathan Broadbent) enters in crumpled cricket whites, the only way of making the opening scene more English would be to plonk it on nearby Richmond Green.
Charlotte Jones’ Hamlet-inspired 2001 play uses this cliche of bucolic nature as the backdrop to a warring family. Felix, an introspective academic, returns home following his beekeeping father’s death. His mother’s new relationship with the father of Felix’s ex-girlfriend makes everything more about passive aggression than the pastoral.
As immediately impressive as Simon Daw’s design is (augmented nicely by Max Pappenheim’s subtle sounds of buzzing bees), Miller’s revival delivers more than just a lush aesthetic. There are six fantastic performances here too, and like the surrounding horticulture, they complement each other.
As Felix’s mother Flora, Belinda Lang is superbly spiky, her clipped voice delivering stingingly negative commentary of the surrounding situation and, more frequently, her son’s life.
In opposition to her queen bee act is Paul Bradley’s hollering and honest George Pye, and Christopher Ravenscroft’s Jim, who whispers his words in the dulcet drone of a Gardener’s World presenter.
Rebekah Hinds and Broadbent make a convincing former couple, whilst Selina Cadell makes eccentric neighbour Mercy Lott seem like she’s getting the last laugh, instead of being the object of pity.
On the whole, Miller’s production leans more towards the comedy than the pathos of the play. But this is a delightful staging, nostalgic and bittersweet, refreshing as a long sip of Pimm’s.