Humble Boy at Ilkley Playhouse

ANY play that transports you from a cold, blustery January evening to a summer garden, bathed in warm sunlight, is good in my book.

Charlotte Jones’ ‘Humble Boy’ which opens at Ilkley Playhouse this week is a hugely entertaining play with plenty of laugh out loud moments which will help to shake off the gloom of the post-Christmas period.

First on to the stage comes Felix, the prodigal son, returned from his scientific research in Oxbridge for his father’s funeral.

Jonathan Kennedy creates a well-rounded character who stutters and stumbles, bound with grief and the challenge of coming back to the family home in which he had never felt enormously welcome or comfortable.

Greeting him is not his mother, but her sycophantic friend Mercy, played so beautifully by Julia Wilson, who endeavours to entreat him to come into the house.

When his mother, Flora, commandingly played by Joanne Martin, does appear on the scene, she exudes not maternal concern for her distressed son but something more akin to irritation.

She clearly doesn’t understand her son’s fascination with science, saying ‘If I had been Marie Curie, I’d have used my Bunsen burner to make crème brulee’.

The reason for her irritation becomes apparent when George (Ian Wilkinson) bursts on to the scene and it is clear that they have been having a lengthy affair and now that the husband is off the scene, George is keen to make things more permanent.

And then, to add to the dysfunctionality of this family, is Rosie (Becky Hill), George’s daughter and former lover of Felix who seems very keen to re-establish relations – but she also harbours a shocking surprise.

Becky plays this part with obvious passion and great daring – up-skittling poor Felix mercilessly.

There are some cracking performances in this piece and a few interesting plot twists.

Said to be a retelling of Hamlet, there are certainly a few parallels but there is enough of an original story for there to be surprises.

Becky Hill’s revelation as Rosie, is a real high point and I particularly enjoyed Mercy’s ‘grace’ – the down trodden, taken-for-granted friend elicited a burst of applause as she blessed the food with a prayer of comic delight.

Directed by Mervyn Button this is a great evening’s entertainment; even the gardener, David Wilyman, gets in on the action and his quite ethereal appearance ensures an ending far more uplifting than Shakespeare imagined.

It runs until January 25.

- by Becky Carter