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Review: The Honey Bees – Red Stitch Actors Theatre


The Honey Bees is a stage play written by veteran playwright Caleb Lewis and directed by Ella Caldwell, starring Eva Seymour, Christopher Brown, Rebecca Bower, Mara (Kat-Marek) Kaczmarek and Katerina Kotsonis.

It is now showing at Red Stitch Theatre on Chapel Street in St Kilda’s East, and is running until the 16th of July.

Caleb Lewis’ gradually and masterfully details his characters in a dexterous juggling of intersecting plotlines and overlapping relationships. His writing is enhanced by the strong direction of Caldwell, who proves to be a master of the long pause, drawing silences between characters out to a length just long enough to be painful and not tedious, creating an atmosphere of tension from the first interactions of the play.

At the centre of the drama is Joan, a bitter yet charming Polish immigrant, both bee-keeper and now elderly mother, who rules her long standing (yet struggling) apiary with an iron will.

Daryl is her estranged, middle aged son, vulnerable and ambitious, living in his dead fathers shadow.

His younger sister, Clover, remains inert in a life resigned to helping her mother with the apiary in placeof her own ambitions as an artist.

Kerry, Joan’s employee and Clover’s lover, is a gruff, tough farmhand who dreams of leaving the apiary – a place she perceives full of broken dreams and stagnant lives – and eloping for the city with Clover.

And finally, there is the mysterious Melissa, a teenager from Sydney who enters explosively into this already strained dynamic. She proves to be the moody and abused catalyst for change and highly charged drama.

A void at the heart of every character is left by the long dead but seemingly omnipresent spectre of Harry, Joan’s husband, and the father of Daryl and Clover, who’s actions in life prove to be the impetus for much of the desperate love and hate in the play

Desperate is the key word to unlocking much at the heart of the performance, and is highlighted in a quote from Clover:

Quote: ‘ A bee might fly over 800km in their life, and only ever produce less than a teaspoonful of Honey’ End quote

To a honey bee, this might be a fine achievement, but to a human audience, this fact sounds unbearably pitiable. So much hard work produces such a meagre teaspoon of positive creation.

And indeed, like the struggling honeybee, all the characters have their own vast, lifelong journeys, riddled with resentment, abuse, sacrifice and lies, for such minuscule moments of sweet honey and happiness.

The play seems to stress that there is only a teaspoonful of sweetness to life at times, a point emphasised in a devastating fashion by the countless tragedies realised throughout the performance, which ultimately bares the ugly truths that lurk hidden within the infinitely subtle and complex relationships that human beings invariably encounter.

The set design is economic and well utilised, with strong unity between lighting and audio creating powerful atmospheres that were compelling and engaging.

Furthermore, there are strong performances by the cast all round, but the standout performance is by Marta Kaczmarek as Joan – a powerful tour de force worthy of the award winning actress.

You can get tickets to a performance of The Honey Bees at Once again, it is running until the 16th of July.

Review written by Jim Thomas

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