The Bee's Knees by William Stafford (Bum on a Seat)

When you behold a patchwork quilt, you see it at first as a whole.  Then you might move on to look closely at individual patches, and then how they relate to their neighbours.  Such is the fabric of Tiffany Hosking’s sweet and rich new play, named for the produce of Anwen’s bees, but quite easily the play could be renamed or subtitled, How To Make A Welsh Quilt.

Bossy Anwen (Vey Straker) focusses on making the quilt, piecing together hexagons (like a honeycomb!) while her husband is away.  She hopes he is doing his job (defusing bombs!) rather than shacking up with another woman.  Her 22-year-old son Caron (Callan Durrant) is autistic.  He watches Happy Feet on repeat and expresses himself through idiosyncratic choreography (by Lizie Gireudeaux); meanwhile Anwen’s tattoo artist sister Celandine (Jemma Lewis) strives to help out, longing to be loved and for a child of her own.  Also in the picture is their half-sister Armes (Jenni Lea Jones) whom Anwen shuns.  Everyone is superb but Lea Jones really plucks at the heartstrings, and Lewis’s sardonic humour has us in stitches, so to speak.  Durrant is a lovely mover, compelling in his silence, but Straker’s Anwen is the heart of the piece.

It’s a beautiful piece, beautifully played by all and the writing is gorgeous.  Hosking also directs, stitching together a range of styles to make a cohesive whole.  For the most part, it’s naturalistic albeit in a stylised setting: three stacks of boxes represent the beehives but these come apart and are reconfigured to suggest furniture and fixtures of different locations: a post office counter, for example, or tables in the pub… Characters address other characters that we don’t see or hear, in one-sided conversations.  Most revealing, the characters will visit the bees to tell them their news and innermost thoughts (it’s a Thing, apparently), in monologues addressed to the audience.  The action in non-linear but we piece together the timeline, the cause and effect of actions and events.  Gentle drama laced with gentle humour becomes something quietly profound and ultimately touching.  Caron discloses to the bees, in the only instance of him saying anything, that the very chemicals responsible for the decline of their kind may be responsible for the surge in autism – the play’s political point, there, but generally it’s about family and community and connections.  It has much to do with tradition but also feels completely fresh and of the now.  I adored it and audiences should swarm to see it.

The play begins and ends with the same scene: Anwen proudly displaying the completed quilt to the bees, wrapping the story in a neat package and making the show as warming as any such blanket.

Honey by BBC's Chris Eldon Lee

There is a warm, golden glow about this show. 

At the very beginning we are introduced to a beautiful honeycomb quilt made of shining yellow hexagonal pieces. It looks absolutely lovely and, like this play, it feels soft and warm and has a certain weight to it. Tiny pebbles from a nearby stream are stitched into the quilt’s seam…just as matters of gravity are worked into the play.

The storyline then reflects on how the quilt was lovingly made by three Welsh sisters and an autistic son…who are piecing their lives together as they sew.This is a delicately written play (by Tiffany Hosking, who also directs) which, like the quilt, sews scattered strands into a satisfying whole. Its theme is the inter-connectedness of everything, especially in tight knit communities; be they villages or apiaries. Subtle clues are dropped throughout. Sometimes they come in an awkward order; which left me wondering why I needed to be so worried about a man I knew nothing of. But it all comes good in the end and even a puzzling, disembodied radio voice slips neatly into place before the final curtain.

Anwen (played by Vey Straker) is a compulsive quilter, escaping from her unavoidable responsibilities. She is joined by her golden-haired sister Celandine (Jemma Lewis) who is a tattoo artist by trade, and thus good with needles. Their estranged and gently prophetic half-sister Armes (a fine, engaging performance by Jenni Lea Jones) breaks down the barriers to help.    

Their characters reveal their innermost thoughts by telling them to the bees (in the good old-fashioned country tradition) and we eavesdrop. Intriguing analogies abound. 

It turns out that both Anwen’s husband and Armes’ son are away with the same bomb disposal squad….giving the play an undercurrent of concern. Will their women ever see their men again? But the bees always come home…and that’s a reassurance.  

Autistic Caron (Callan Durrant) communicates with humans very little; but he can replicate the waggle dance the bees perform to find their way…which leads to some very original hand choreography. 

Ideas are dropped lightly into what often feels like casual conversation. The play suggests that maybe the same chemicals that are killing off the bee population are also responsible for the rise in autism? But because the writing tends to be elegiac and meditative, it is often delivered in a very laid-back way…which, on the first night, presented audibility problems. Moving to a front seat at the interval revealed more clearly just how sensitive the writing is. 

There are some marvellous moments. When Caron momentarily overcomes his shyness, he has well thought out words of wisdom to impart. When the women gather their jars for market, the honey glows most magically. And the final line (which is whistled rather than spoken) has a very special resonance.

‘Honey’ is part of a trilogy from Reaction Theatre Makers, but it does stand alone perfectly well. It would also make a most hypnotic radio play.

Honey - Andy Major

The Welsh mountains find us where brilliant blues gold and an amber sunshine brings a honeyed dialogue.nAlmost hidden in the sustained feel of Reaction Theatre Maker's 'Honey' is an understated self examining humour which a blends together one presence for audience and the actors felt' on and 'off stage'. To our visual delight we are entranced by seamless choreography, sound, original music and lighting. There are moments of luminous truth falling open onto the stage, like the iconic hexagonal patchwork quilt; a delicate but disposable fabric.

'Honey' is Part of Reaction's Earth Mind Trilogy'. I reckon this as ensemble piece worthy of one of those 'other places in Stratford ' down road a bit. It could stand alone as a radio play with just a hint of Milkwood, of course but much more. A folky soundscape evokes the balm of nature but never for too long before reality slaps from Dylan's namesake Bob' as a hard rain falling.

Engagingly observed we follow some familiar unravelling as fragile family and community allegiances threaten to unthread. Honey's understated lyrical magic is its power to call us on through personal spaces we'd rather disown. Intuitive silent communication at play invites the untangling of our knots of disability and separation in my own case a tendency to stubborn incomprehension. Our theatre seats remained in Coventry -on the front row- but that urban studio at the Albany became intimate -our land -we are the villagers, confidantes, and might come or go, as suddenly as that almost visible colony of bees.

Go taste and see - a long and winding road beckons you into the heartlands where bible black certainty meets starlight. The tapestry of coincidence followed us out of the theatre into the car park where we met a creative director of RTM who I had wanted to talk to after the performance.Our times they are are a changing so let's respect this invitation to rediscover our mind-body native cry for home.

Hereford Times: A small tale lyrically told with a big message

Honey No TextFAMILIES are complicated things. So are communities. But, as Tiffany Hosking's new work, Honey, aims to show us, we need them both.

At the heart of the drama is a story of family - family fragmented, family struggling, and finally family creating and rebuilding the connections essential to support them.

Bee-keeper Anwen (Tiffany Hosking) wakes to find that her husband Robert, a bomb disposal expert in the army, has gone, leaving her with their autistic son Caron (Alex Radu) and a determination to create a quilt before Robert comes back. Her sister Celandine (Michelle Moore), named for the flowers carpeting the fields when she was born, takes time out from her tattoo studio and her search for a man of her own to offer not-always-welcome support and becomes involved in the making of the quilt: "I'm good with a needle," she says, as she joins Anwen to first tack and then whip-stitch together the hexagons of fabric in vibrant honeyed shades of yellow.

Like all families, this one has its own secrets and a trip to the local market to sell the honey reveals the thorn in Anwen's side as we meet the sister's half-sibling, born to their father as the result of a fling. Anwen will not hear her name mentioned nor allow Celandine to use the word sister, but when Caron goes missing and a link more powerful than blood is revealed, healing proves possible.

Tiffany Hosking tells an atmospheric story of life in a small community, a story written, as the drama's subtitle - a new play about interconnectedness - explains, to show us that lives are never lived in isolation and that family and community create inescapable bonds. Bees, she tells us without hammering the point home, have got the knack of community exactly right and we could do worse than learn from them about the mutual need for support, a fact subtly underlined by the honeycombed quilt and an inventive set comprising three flexible hives.

This is a small tale, lyrically told and beautifully performed, with a big message.

There is another chance to see Honey at Malvern Cube on Friday, July 8 at 8pm. To book, visit www.malverncube.com

Remote Goat: Sweetness and sourness blended together

Ben Macnair

Honey, a brand new play, of which I saw the fifth performance, is an original piece devised by Reaction Theatre Makers, and it is a fine invention, which takes in serious, modern concerns, but also rhapsodises about the importance of nature, of family, and living life to the full.

The stage is unusual, in that it is three Beehives, that develop and change as the play develops, with the many characters forming a family of sorts, living a life in the Welsh Hills. The careful, sympathetic lighting by Hansjborg Schmidt adds a sense of wide expanse, but also of claustrophobia, whilst the original musical score, provided by both modern technology, and live musicians lifts the play far above the mundane. Although many familiar tropes are used, such as an alcoholic mother, an absentee soldier father, and an austic child, the ingredients are blended in such a way that it is the characters and dialogue, rather than the expected cliches that stand out in this production. The blend of pathos, tragedy, and comedy was realistic, whilst the acting was of a uniformly high standard.

A Tattoo artist for a sister, and other family members also add to the story line, and whilst the play is only relatively short, it covers a lot of ground, in both character development, and sharing information with the audience, in a way that is entertaining.