As a pioneer of showcasing Australian talent both on stage and behind the scenes, it is no secret that Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre have built up a certain reputation amongst the Melbourne theatre scene to produce high-quality performances season after season. Following the success of “The Village Bike”, “Splendor”, and “The River” earlier this year, the world premiere of “The Honey Bees” has been developed through the INK program, working to encourage and give platform to works of Australian playwrights. Written by Caleb Lewis and Directed by Ella Cadwell, “The Honey Bees” is a story of empire, family and unspoken truths that threaten to destroy the already fractured bonds between a group of characters linked by both blood and ambition.
At the heart of this show is the domestic conflict that exists within a family pushed to the brink of emotional and economic strain by the honey business they run together. As the family struggle to meet the demands of a deal that will (allegedly) keep their lives afloat, the cracks in their relationships begin to form. Thus, the main focus of the narrative shifts away from the circumstances of the sale, towards the toll it takes on its characters. Something uniting Red Stitch’s 2016 shows so far (be it intentionally or not) is that throughout each play there seems to be an undisclosed mystery for the audience to decipher. “The Honey Bees” is no different. A number of questions arise within the play, including the impending global disappearance of bees, as well as the true motivations behind each character’s actions and presence. While the plot may struggle in some areas to be specifically structured or totally easy to grasp, it refreshingly takes a number of risks that never feel melodramatic or inappropriate.
Carrying this show is an ensemble of incredibly skilled actors who each produce strong and believable portrayals. Christopher Brown finds the perfect balance of smugness, superiority, and foolishness in his role as Daryl, while Eva Seymour also impresses as the rebellious Melissa whose motivations are anything but predictable. Similarly, Rebecca Bower excels as the instantly likable and often naive Clover to whom the audience can’t help but form a special fondness for, while her long-suffering partner Kerrie, portrayed by Katerina Kotsonis, works well to ground the script through her slightly more down-to-earth personality. My highest praise, however, must go to Marta Kaczmarek in role of Joan. Joan is the matriarch of the piece, who captures a plethora of emotional reactions and hidden agendas that breathe a real sense of consequence and harshness to the script. Kaczmarek masters every challenge thrown her way, and is without question the backbone of the performance’s success, whether it by defining the tone and atmosphere of the piece by uniting her family, or being responsible for their separation.
The real strength of Lewis’s script, and really the performance as a whole, is an incredibly balanced tone. Make no mistake, this is an emotionally taxing performance. However, it is not without moments of hilarity, warmness, mystery, and even at times horror, that keep the audience completely invested and alert to the script’s numerous developments and twists.
Though slightly in contrast to the intricate and detailed sets of “The River” and “Splendor”, Sophie Woodward’s fixed set design is both simple and effective to build the atmosphere of the piece as well as being fairly adaptable to stand in for various different settings. Daniel Anderson’s lighting design is another real highlight which, when married with Daniel Nixon’s lighting, builds towards the more ‘intense’ and ‘supernatural’ moments of the script, intentionally overwhelming the audience’s senses. It is not only the use of lighting and sound, but the notable absence of it in various moments throughout the narrative that works so dramatically well.
“The Honey Bees” closes at the Red Stitch Theatre on July 16th. For more information about the show or to book tickets, you can visit the Red Stitch website below: http://redstitch.net