**Please note that this review contains spoilers.**
Located in Melbourne’s inner south, Red Stitch Actors Theatre is currently celebrating its fifteenth year of operation. Since forming in 2001, the company has staged more than one hundred plays, showcasing significant works from both local and international playwrights. These have included ‘Grounded’ (by George Brant), ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ (by Tom Wells), ‘The Pride’ (by Alexi Kaye Campbell) and ‘Rabbit Hole’ (by David Lindsay Abaire).
‘The Honey Bees’, a gripping new Australian drama by Caleb Lewis, is making its world premiere as part of the ensemble’s exciting and diverse 2016 Season. Lewis, whose previous pieces include ‘Rust and Bone’, ’Nailed’, ‘Dogfall’, and ’Death in Bowengabbie’ is also the inaugural winner of the Richard Burton Award for New Plays.
Set in Western Australia’s dry and desolate outback, ‘The Honey Bees’ covers a lot of emotional territory. It also packs a great many punches into the compact ninety – minute running time. Capturing viewers’ attention from the get – go, this overlapping parable about love, loyalty, greed and betrayal, manages to work several strong environmental messages into the tale as well.
Due to a combination of intense consumer demand and destructive bacterium like foul brood, global honeybee numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate. When one small family – run business decides to sell up its entire stock to an overseas consortium, a series of interconnected events brings them crashing down before the deal can be struck.
Like the hapless Joads from John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, the scheming Giddens from Lillian Hellman’s ‘The Little Foxes’, or William Golding’s tribal school boys from ‘Lord of the Flies’, single – minded desperation will often drive humans to the ends of the earth and back.
This is no different with ‘The Honey Bees’ and its entwined narrative arc.
What makes this story stand out, is Lewis’ ability to short cut yet layer each characters’ back history and their motives through his spare and precise use of dialogue.
Combined with Ella Caldwell’s strong directorial vision, her team of actors give Lewis’ words physical weight and meaning as well. Particularly when long – kept secrets and lies are brought to the fore, having all necessary verbal information ready becomes extremely useful to viewers when putting the key pieces together.
As matriarch, Joan, Marta Kaczmarek is the calculating queen bee. With an ability to swing her mood at will, Kaczmerek gives the role a mixture of poisonous venom and honey sweetness as required.
Cast as Joan’s adult children, loyal daughter, Clover (Rebecca Bower) and prodigal son, Daryl (Christopher Brown), both hypnotized by their mother’s power, play her respective worker and drone.
Katerina Kotsonis is Clover’s long – time girlfriend, Kerrie. We feel Kotsonis’ character’s frustration etched on both her face and in her voice, wanting to do what is best for both of them. But at the same time, feeling trapped by Clover’s allegiance to her mother and beloved dead father.
Newcomer, Eva Seymour as Melissa, communicates the right level of teenage petulance and immature confusion. Literally driving into a situation she doesn’t fully understand, her character is the catalyst which sends this story into motion.
Sophie Woodward is responsible for the stylized set and costume design.
Her highly textural choices, including real soil underfoot and untreated wooden boxes for the bee hives, are inspired. Both add to the story’s alien mood in creating a dry, barren, yet almost dream – time landscape.
Woodward’s smart costuming help to define each character as well. For example, Brown’s character is mostly in upmarket business attire. Whereas the younger female cast members are dressed in stained t – shirts and drab work shorts. During a short moment of celebration, Bower and Seymour wear brightly – coloured school formal gowns, providing stark contrast to their surrounds.
Sharp stage management is provided by Hannah Bullen, with assistance from Maddie Lyman. In tandem with mood lighting by Daniel Anderson, and composition & sound by Daniel Nixon, together the technical crew keep the story’s choreographic pace fast and fluid.
‘The Honey Bees’ plays until Saturday, July 16.