Humble Boy

They can be one of the irritants of summer: bees buzzing around you, clambering over your picnic, harmless and yet simultaneously threatening.

In Charlotte Jones’ play Humble Boy, brought to life by the Norwich Players at the Maddermarket Theatre, the pesky insects play a central role in the unfolding story of a recently bereaved Felix Humble.

Giles Coneely takes the lead as the odd eponymous man-child, a theoretical physicist who retains an oddly subservient role to his mother, Flora, and reacts badly to the death of his father, James. He inhabits the character completely, from quivering with emotion in the opening scene through comic, pensive and belligerent turns.

Zanna Foley-Davies has an icy detachment as Flora while Robert Barr is full of life as her bombastic suitor, the coarse travel impresario George Pye.

His daughter, and sometime paramour of Felix, Rosie is given quiet composure by Gemma Morris; she brings a compassionate and steely core with occasional flashes of cold sharp metal.

Family friend Mercy Lott, played by Ros Mace, starts as a (slightly empty) comic foil but comes in to her own with a compelling and caustic speech towards the close, and the small cast is completed by Terry Cant as the quietly dignified gardener Jim.

The play has multiple illusions to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and is part of the Maddermarket’s celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth, but it wears its literariness lightly. The text is clever and poignant, but it is mostly funny; as one character remarks, this can’t be made a tragedy.

Tony Fullwood’s direction is steady and unpretentious, working with Paul Stimpson’s neat and thoughtful design to bring the drama to the fore. The play, after all, is the thing – and this one deserves to catch your attention.