George Rowlands, in his professional debut, shows extreme promise and sensitivity with his portrayal of the jaded schoolboy who is lost after the death of his father.
With a swarm of bees at the centre of the plot, on a North London estate, the boy is drawn to Euston (played by Colin Hurley), an older grungy individual who is the sole witness to a horrific crime. During the play, the city and its residents tear one another apart and the two misfits form an unexpected alliance, as they realise that each holds the key to the other’s salvation. John Straiton’s darkly lyrical play explores a fleeting moment of connection and the surprising bonds forged in times of loneliness. The Boy with the Bee Jar was also long-listed for the 2019 Bruntwood Prize, which definitely made me even more excited to see this piece.
This play is possibly a victim of the very thing which made being back in the theatre so exciting and that is the time gap. The year and a half pause in getting this piece together results in a number of over rehearsed scenes where the two powerhouse actors would have benefited from taking a breath and listening to one another. Individually, the scenes are strong and show the emotional ability of both actors; however, with dozens of scenes with a similar rhythm and pace back-to-back, and the same back and forth/talking over each other style, one is struck by a sense of repetition whereby all I want is for something new.
With that said, the acting is at times a true joy to watch. A particular highlight of acting prowess came from Rowlands monologue to the bee in the jar. As he is transfixed on the bee, I was engrossed in his process and as the line “I’m not sure who’s watching who” is uttered I was hit by the realisation that perhaps the boy is in fact the bee in the jar. With Rowlands taking centre stage in this performance, Hurley expresses entertaining and convincing range whilst playing the rock and roll maverick, the lonely housewife and a boisterous hornet! For an 80-minute no interval performance, these two actors were captivating and a joy to watch.
However, whether this is the fault of the writing or the overall performance, the pair need to build the relationship between them and allow us as the audience to see and believe that. In the intimate studio space that is the Hope Theatre, where I am less than a meter away from the actors, one is at times taken out of the story … which is a shame because these are two actors who clearly have the potential to truly bring it.
The Boy and the Bee Jar is playing the Hope Theatre until 17 July 2021. For more information and to book, visit the Hope Theatre online.