Left – Marta Kaczmarek & Christopher Brown. Cover – Katerina Kotsonis & Rebecca Bower. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson.
A strong debut from Red Stitch’s Ink programme which commissions and champions new Australian work, Caleb Lewis’s The Honey Bees is a well-structured and ambitious play, revolving around the story of a family apiary business in Western Australia failing due to bee colony collapse disorder, the causes of which remain mysterious.
The family’s finances are in a critical state but there's a chance the business might be saved due to the return of prodigal son Daryl (Christopher Brown) who’s come home from Sydney and brokered a deal to sell the hives to US agribusinesses. When a strange young woman Melissa (Eva Seymour), lands on the family’s doorstep after crashing her car (inadvertently destroying another 140 hives), the family lurches into a spiral of misfortunes, woofers (farm workers) walk out, trucks fail to start, and the story begins to broil with tension and subtext. Melissa isn’t an accidental visitor, and her presence starts off a rattly tumble of skeletons from a rather full closet.
Marta Kaczmarek is a stand out as family matriarch Joan. She’s a strong presence and gets the best lines. Joan’s funny, earthy, and intuitive, determined to keep the business going at any cost, even to the point of betraying her ever-loyal daughter Clo (Rebecca Bower) by agreeing to sell off Clover’s personal hives of ‘boutique bees’ bequeathed to her by her dead father, behind her back. Clo and her girlfriend Kerrie (Katerina Kotsonis) have been working on the struggling business; Kerrie admits the futility of continuing but Clo does not.
Overall the tone is uneven, veering as it does from a quippy comedic approach to a heavy kind of outback gothic mood. You can see the playwright at work, upping stakes and antes, piling up the symbolism, manufacturing crucial deadlines, truncating dialogue and planting reveals, all which lends a weighty self-consciousness to the business on stage; moments which ought to feel as though they arise naturally from events and the dynamics between characters, don’t. Despite that, there’s a lot to enjoy here, even if the play is overly packed full of turmoil. A soft soundscape of buzzing, and warm lighting create a nicely atmospheric set. Directed by Ella Caldwell.
Red Stitch presents
The Honey Bees
by Caleb Lewis
Directed by Ella Caldwell
Venue: Red Stitch Theatre | Rear 2, Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: 14 June – 16 July 2016
Tickets: $15 – $45
Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 | www.redstitch.net