Beemaster – Teahouse Theatre, Vauxhall, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Writers: Chris Harris & Chris Denys

The Teahouse Theatre is cosy, charming, serves a wide variety of teas and cakes, and is located in the middle of a park. A perfect location for a play about bees and their importance for flowers and the planet.

The play’s first half is set in a monastery, where Brother Barnabus the Beemaster shows a tour party around his hives, imparts his bee-wisdom, and in his spare moments chats with the Creator about his purpose on the planet. His musings compare unfavourably with the determination and go-getting nectar-gathering drive of his buzzy little charges. A lengthy sermon from a fable by Aesop, a nod towards metamorphosis, and Brother Barnabus shuffles offstage to recover from his all-action first half.

He returns, transported into the body of a randy drone bee, and tells ribald bee-jokes interspersed with bee-facts, until he meets the fate of all drones. Forty-five minutes of bee-standup is quite a lot of bee-humour.

It’s hard to gauge who this show is meant for. If the length were reduced to twenty minutes or so, an actor in a bee costume could delight and enthral a class of primary school children, and relay crucial information about the importance of bees to the continued health of the planet. For adults, a well laid out fact-sheet might be better at getting the information across, and would be scarcely less engaging than Steve Taylor’s doddery monk and bawdy bee double. There are a weight of statistics and facts in the script, all significant and worthy, at the heart of the play’s aims and intentions. But they need to be delivered accurately, with certainty. They become less reliable and less interesting if they are being looked for in the air by a slightly befuddled monk. Since the first half also contains passages of philosophical reflection on existence and meaning and such, involving strings of questions to The Almighty, and the Almighty is famously slow to respond, punching up the delivery of the bee facts would help to inject some pace and momentum into proceedings, and stop the audience from reflecting on the charms of the venue, the creakiness of its chairs, and the activity of its attendant cats.

The intentions of this show are admirable, the gentleness and care for the planet apparent – every audience member got a packet of bee-friendly flower seeds to help slow down the insect’s decline. A caring and thoughtful show that has important things to say isn’t helped by acting that isn’t purposeful, by information that doesn’t seem reliable, or by a playing length that makes a serious challenge to an audience’s powers of concentration. Having a good heart is only partial mitigation.

Reviewed on 14 July 2022 and then tours

The Reviews Hub Score

Bumbly bee-filled bawdry

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. Interesting, your take on this play. Strange that a show would want want to both be a fact-sheet about bees and a treatise on existential questions and God. Your review caught my eye because – well, you can probably tell from my name. Thanks for a nice read.

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