Louise Gold and Laura Doddington – photo from Norwich Theatre
Turkey farming in Norfolk has been established for a few generations now but I confess to having missed its role in expanding the constraints on the boundaries of theatrical tale-telling. Until now.
Canadian playwright Mark Crawford clearly has his finger on the pulse of rural passions, and in the hands of adaptor James McDermott these passions emerge and throb somewhere not that far from Cromer, or maybe even Swaffham.
The Birds and the Bees is a startlingly good bit of theatre that is on offer in Norwich Playhouse for ten days and guaranteed to send you home with a smile, and maybe even a wistful glance at your date for the night. We are introduced to a mother, Gail (Louise Gold), her just separated daughter Sarah (Laura Doddington), Gail’s tenant and neighbour Earl (Siôn Tudor Owen) and hapless young American bee researcher student Ben (Richard McIver). In the way of rural matters there is some complexity of relationships, so Earl’s ex appears to be the partner of Gail’s ex, and yet they still have to share life within this small community. Sarah has left her (unseen) partner Darren, despairing that at 38 she seems to have little prospect of bearing a child with him. So two women, two men, and an atmosphere charged with sexual frustration and unfulfilled desires. What could possibly…?
The strength of this work is that the characters are immediately familiar and identifiable for all of us, and their hopes and disappointments are almost too close for comfort. There are some sub-themes too, particularly about the impact of our food farming on bees and the interdependence of bees and humans. Gail keeps bees, and also brews some killer mead, storing boxes of the stuff in daughter Sarah’s childhood bedroom, which might have a consequence or two.
The result of this convoluted scene setting is a delightful interplay between the four characters, where each find their souls bared, and their bodies a fair bit, with very unexpected consequences. We are engaged with each of them as they go through their own and shared dramas, and I defy you not to shed a tear or two as each face their fears.
What makes this play so good is that the apparently humdrum lives of four people we probably know are each dramatic and compelling in their depiction, and it is impossible not to be drawn into their feelings. If life has a plan, sometimes you need to forget your plan and give way to your feelings.
The details of this production have all been carefully considered and executed. The set shows two bedrooms, Gail’s and Sarah’s, and the connecting passage and bathroom door. There are one or two topical references, but the themes are timeless and familiar; the social mores are achingly similar to what we all know. The cast are all experienced actors with an impressive record of stage and TV work, yet they are so good at their craft that you may recognise their characters before you recognise the actors themselves. Director Peter Rowe has given the play a distinct and accurate East Anglian feel.
This is a show that you must go and see, it is full of life, love and humanity and if you have been staying away from the theatre over the last couple of years it is a perfect reminder of why it is time to go back and enjoy the very best of live theatre in Norwich.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 20th April 2022
The Birds and the Bees | Norwich Theatre Playhouse
20 – 30 April 2022
Ticket price: £22
Age recommendation: 14+
Book online at norwichtheatre.org or call 01603 630000.