Theatre Review: A Humble Boy With Big Ideas About The World

Humble Boy, Orange Tree Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 7 months ago
Theatre Review: A Humble Boy With Big Ideas About The World Humble Boy, Orange Tree Theatre 4
Photo: Manuel Harlan

In the week that the great Stephen Hawking died, theoretical physics pops up all over the place in Charlotte Jones's 2001 play Humble Boy. The anti-hero Felix Humble, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University, returns to his Cotswolds home on the death of his father to find his mother already on the verge of remarrying. String theory, quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle and black holes are all name-checked in his struggle to make sense of the differing forces of life.

In fact, Jones uses science — including gardening and beekeeping — mainly for its metaphorical richness to reflect on the human condition, in a play that sometimes seems overstuffed with ideas but is always entertaining. Stoppardian intellectual wit mixes with Ayckbourn-style dysfunctional domestic comedy in a plot that borrows heavily from Hamlet, complete with a ghostly paternal presence.

Jonathan Broadbent gives the bumbling Felix's metaphysical musings a melancholic hue, as someone closer to the edge of a nervous breakdown than a scientific breakthrough. His awkward relationship with his coldly self-centred mother (Belinda Lang) is only alleviated by the sympathetic gardener Jim (Christopher Ravenscroft) who brings him back down to earth.

Paul Miller's sensitive production benefits from Simon Daw's beautifully lush garden set including verdant boughs from which a Newtonian apple falls — though presumably due to intelligent design rather than just gravity.

Humble Boy, Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, TW9 2SA, £22.50. Until 14 April.

Last Updated 15 March 2018