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.