Writer: Tyrone Huggins
Director: Emma Bernard
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The path that The Honey Man seeks to tread is a well-worn one; two different mindsets collide and gradually learn from each other, with both being the richer for it. In this instance, we have the enigmatic Honey Man, an elderly West Indian man living alone in an almost derelict hut tending his hives and producing honey. He has his own homespun philosophy of life that relies on plants for medicine and has him at one with his surroundings. But all is not well: something is killing his bees and his hives are falling quiet, causing him to cast around for solutions.
Into his world comes Misty, the daughter of the local landowner, privileged with all she could desire. The outcome of an expensive education, she is the typical teenager, believing she knows everything and constantly connected to her family and friends. The pace of her life is in marked contrast to that of Honey Man – she speaks quickly in staccato phrases at the beck and call of her smartphone, her laptop and even her landline. She has it all – except that her mother has left and the family has fallen on harder times, having to convert the ancient family pile into a hotel for nouveau riche ‘townies’. Misty has to play her part in its running, giving tours to groups and explaining the house’s history. Indeed, that is our first glimpse of her, imparting lifeless facts to a tour group in a desultory manner; even her scripted limp joke about Admiral Lord Nelson falls flat.
Writer Tyrone Huggins, who also plays Honey Man, explains that the two protagonists relate to the digital and the analogue: Misty is the digital – birdlike, connected, and feeling omniscient; Honey Man is the analogue: rising with the sun and full of the accumulated wisdom of age. Huggins makes Honey Man a sympathetic character. The audience cannot help but be on his side as he struggles against the blight on his bees. He is, indeed, full of wisdom, though he has very little formal knowledge. Misty (Beatrice Allen) is rather less sympathetic. Full of her own self-importance, she is, despite the flashes of Allen’s acting ability when Misty deals with warring emotions, rather two-dimensional at the beginning. However, through her visits to Honey Man she begins to understand more about life, herself and true, rather than digital, friendship. By the end, she is also becoming a more sympathetic character, her journey punctuated by the house tours, which become more animated, more personal, more, well, interesting.
Timothy Bird’s set design is ingenious, allowing the same space to stand in for Honey Man’s cottage, Misty’s bedroom and the outdoors. It is dominated by a large wooden cupboard, which serves as Honey Man’s cottage wall and door, Misty’s bedroom and wardrobe and as a projection screen. It is on here that Misty’s growing understanding is played out as we visit and revisit a painting in the house (heavily influenced by Johan Zoffany’s The Family of Sir William Young), seeing how it shows her deepening understanding of the world, her roots and the unexpected heritage she shares with Honey Man.
On the superficial level, the play succeeds; both learn from the other, although Misty’s journey is the greater. But the repeated meetings feel rather contrived, especially after Honey Man has lectured her on the evils of cannabis. The whole is perhaps a touch overlong, and at this performance, there seemed to be a little hesitancy on a couple of occasions and some repetition, although the cast covered well and the flow was not disturbed – but these minor criticisms are easily addressed.
So an interesting, thought-provoking piece, setting itself a big task to explore themes of old versus new; wisdom versus knowledge; nature versus science; being alone versus being lonely; the nature of true friendship. The Honey Man is not yet totally fully-formed, but certainly shows promise and is an entertaining evening out.
Photo: Robert Day | Runs until: 21st February