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Review of Centenary Theatre’s Humble Boy

By Eric Scott

Photo: Brian Cannon and Jason Nash have a ghostly chat.

Humble Boy

By Charlotte Jones

Directed by Gary O’Neill

Centenary Theatre Group


Season: March 7-28. Chelmer Community Centre, corner of Queenscroft & Halsbury Streets, Chelmer. Bookings: on-line at or phone 0435 591 720

This is an award winning play from the UK from 2001.

Felix Humble returns home for the funeral of his biologist father, and much to his chagrin finds that a swarm of honey bees, his father’s pride and joy, has been sold off and the hive is empty.

Felix is an odd-bodd; an overweight, pony-tailed physicist who is reduced to childhood stuttering in the presence of his overbearing, self-centred mother, Flora. The ghost of Felix’s father, Jim, happy in his gardening gear, appears and tries to give his son some advice on life and talks about roses and bees.

The patio set is a terrific piece of work and Eliot Price’s lighting plot lit it beautifully.

Felix is a research fellow in theoretical physics and is searching for something called a “unified field theory" - though at the moment he's having trouble sorting it all out

Into this dysfunctional trio comes George, a garishly dressed, foul-mouthed spiv who is set on marrying the new widow as soon as possible and his daughter, single mother Rosie, who was once Felix’s girlfriend.

Of course friction abounds and the middle is the gentle Mercy, a long time family friend of Flora who tends the cop the brunt of Flora’s brittle temper.

Gary O’Neill as gathered in all the usual suspects for his play – Beverley Wood plays Flora, Brian Cannon is Jim, and John Grey is George. O’Neill likes to work with people he has known for a long time.

Beverley Wood is a very elegant lady on stage and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why she was having an affair with the repugnant George, unless she had a Lady Chatterley complex. I couldn’t connect the characters at all.

And George hates Felix for dumping his little girl seven years ago when she was pregnant, although there is no paternity claim on the young man. However Rosie, played nicely by Katie Dowling, doesn’t seem to care much as she keeps trying to get into his pants.

Brian Cannon’s gentle soul Jim wanders in and out of the action unseen by anyone but Felix and adds a certain amount of confusion, while Penny Murphy’s Mercy is a nicely befuddled softy.

The friction all comes to a head when Flora invites everyone to lunch, Felix can’t stand the idea of his mother marrying George, especially announcing the engagement a short while after the funeral. He does a lot of academic spouting; Rosie throws in her little snippets of info while poor Mercy is verbally abused by Flora. In the middle is some very funny business with Dad’s ashes.

It all ends in a man-battle between George and Felix and Flora chatting with Jim’s ghost.

It was difficult to hear some of Jason Nash’s dialogue at the back of the hall. The buzzing of the bees and the great swing music often drowned out the voices and it was a warm night and the hum of the fans distorted the mainly excellent diction that came from the stage

The actors played their roles well, but to me they never seemed connected, solo performance almost and a lot of the play itself baffled me, although there were many truly funny lines that were well delivered, especially by the acid-tongued Flora

I didn’t warm to the play itself.

It was very wordy, fairly static and the characters unreal and yet vaguely familiar.

I didn’t read the program until after the show and, had I read it I might have understood it better. The entire action came straight from Hamlet: The mad son, the ghostly father, the mother’s new lover, a distracted daughter…

But then I have a view that if the play needs to be explained beforehand it can’t be that good a play. Humble Boy might have won prizes, but I thought the cast deserved something better to work with.

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