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Review: The Boy with the Bee Jar, at Hope Theatre

Astonishing stage debut by George Rowlands perfectly captures the innocence of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood

09 July, 2021 — By Lucy Popescu

George Rowlands in The Boy with the Bee Jar. Photo: Alex Brenner

JOHN Straiton’s cracking new play, longlisted for the 2019 Bruntwood Prize, reopens the Hope Theatre and is the perfect showcase for two talented actors.

Like Amanda Wilkin’s Shedding A Skin at Soho Theatre, Straiton explores inter-generational connection and focuses on a young person struggling to fit in.

While studying for his A-levels, the boy (George Rowlands) meets Euston (Colin Hurley), a down-and-out, self-styled punk, on a London estate.

They both hang out in the derelict playground. The boy, a loner, is mourning the loss of his dad and keeping his eye on a swarm of bees dancing above a satellite dish.

He carries a jar in which he keeps the bees he’s captured. “I’m not sure who’s watching who,” he says. “Who’s the keeper, who’s kept? This world is so tiny.”

Euston has witnessed the fatal stabbing of a teenager on the estate. The boy wants him to report the gang leader, Ash, to the police but Euston, fearful of his own safety, doesn’t want to get involved.

Threading through their encounters are scenes from life on the estate that are enacted by the pair: an abusive husband and his wife, a blind man and his old dog, a father and son.

They watch as the bees swarm – in their ordered chaos – and try to make sense of the disarray in their own lives. Both are burdened by guilt and striving for “light and grace”.

Meanwhile, the threat of Ash and his gang draws ever closer. Can Euston and the boy break free from their personal demons and escape in time?

This is an astonishing stage debut by Rowlands. He perfectly captures the innocence of a teenager on the cusp of adulthood while Hurley gives a rousing performance as a belligerent punk.

The professional standards are impressive. Wilson’s direction and design and Holly Ellis’s lighting are top notch, and I loved the subtlety of Raffaela Pancucci’s sound.

Until July 17


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