Humble Boy

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Humble Boy is a 2001 English play by Charlotte Jones. The play was presented in association with Matthew Byam Shaw and Anna Mackmin, and was first performed on the Cottesloe stage of the Royal National Theatre on 9 August 2001. [1]

Background[edit]

Humble Boy is a play inspired by Hamlet. “Charlotte Jones knows her Stoppard, her Hamlet, her Ayckbourn, and among other things perhaps the fourth book of Virgil's "Georgics" on the subject of Aristaeus's bees.”[1]

Charlotte Jones draws upon techniques of Tom Stoppard in applying multiple layers of what seems to be random events, people, movement, and philosophies. Jones, “offers a play with inklings of the aforementioned Hamlet, bees, horticulture, theoretical physics (specifically, super string theory), anosmeia, swing music, and the elusiveness as well as the playfulness of language.” [3]

Thoughts of playwright Alan Ayckbourn are also apparent in Jones’ work. “Set entirely outdoors in the Humbles' garden (Ayckbourn territory), we witness the Humbles' domestic struggle (definitely Ayckbourn here), Felix's confrontation with his past, and his own mental difficulties in maintaining his familial and professional responsibilities.” [4]

Plot synopsis[edit]

Felix Humble returns to his family home in the countryside of England after receiving word of the death of his father, James Humble. Once he returns home, he discovers that his mother, Flora Humble, has gotten rid of all of her husband’s belongings including the bees which he kept. The reunion of mother and son was not as pleasant as one would imagine, old animosity is sparked between the two as Flora blames Felix for embarrassing her at James’s funeral by running away when it was Felix’s turn for eulogy. On top of that Felix discovers that Flora intends to marry a man named George Pye, the complete opposite of the intellectual and passionate James.

Throughout the summer the distance between Flora and Felix grows. Flora sends her friend Mercy to befriend Felix and relay information back. Felix can see right through his mother’s devious agenda and finds that the gardener Jim, who is ignored by everyone, is the only one he can confide in.

Felix reunites with an ex-girlfriend, Rosie Pye daughter of George Pye. She claims to have changed her life after breaking up with Felix and became a nurse and a single mother. Rosie tries to ease Felix’s tension by fornication only to be interrupted by Flora and George coming home. Rosie reveals to Felix that they have been having an affair for a long time even when James was alive. She also tells Felix before she leaves that he is the father of her daughter Felicity.

Felix now becomes very distraught and even suicidal. A confrontation occurs at a garden dinner party where Flora plans to officially announce her wedding with George. After a period of emotional outbursts which ends with Mercy leaving after being harassed by Flora, a moment of revelation occurs as Felix reminds Flora of the intelligence and devotion of James to his unfaithful wife. Flora cancels her wedding and sends George off. As Felix and Flora have a moment of forgiveness in the garden, Flora finally gives notice to the gardener Jim, which turns out to be the spirit of James Humble.

Character guide[edit]

Felix Humble – A mid-30s theoretical astrophysicist from Cambridge. He is our main character and most noticeable is his stutter caused by his nervousness.

Flora Humble – Beautiful and self-centered, Flora is the mother of Felix and her need for absolute power attributes to problems in relationships with the people around her.

George Pye – Confident, well-built, modern, and big band music savvy. George is the complete opposite of James Humble, the deceased father of Felix. He plans to marry Flora.

Rosie Pye – Daughter of George and former girlfriend of Felix. She is a nurse and also has a 7 year old daughter that she believes to be Felix’s.

Jim – The gardener of the estate, he is an old man in his 60s. He is virtually ignored by everyone in the play until the end. He is the only source in which Felix can truly confide.

Mercy Lott – Friend (although seemingly a slave) of Flora, she is kind but doesn’t seem to be all there. She has a secret crush on George Pye.

Character analysis[edit]

Felix in many regards acts as the modern day Hamlet; he has a brilliant but troubled mind, will not let go of the death of his father, and falls into depression and even contemplates suicide. His work involves finding the “mother” of all theories to “unite” all aspects of physics which “runs parallel to his inability to comprehend the union of opposites that was his parents’ marriage.” [6]

Themes[edit]

Dysfunctional Relationships – The theme of socially impaired relationships is very apparent in Humble Boy and extends in one way or another in every characters relationship to another. The obvious distance between mother and son, the ex-girlfriend who keeps her daughter’s paternity secret for seven years, the slave-friend who crushes on her best friend’s fiancé, and the resentment of his mom’s new fiancé are just a few examples of dysfunctional relationships.

Reversed Social Hierarchy - The stereotype of the social structure in which “men” are the leaders and hold the most power is reversed. Flora acts as the head of the Humble estate and everyone else are more or less her pawns. This idea runs parallel with the social construction of a bee colony in which the queen bee is the most powerful.

Humility – The surname which the main characters in the play are given, spark the on-going debate between classical and the Christian view of humility. The last name Humble, relates the Christian view that humility and self-sacrifice are primary virtues of a well lived life. As opposed to the classical Aristotle view that the humble man’s lack of appropriate self-respect makes him just as foolish as the vain man. [8]

Genre[edit]

Humble Boy follows loosely to the guidelines to a classical comedy. The most apparent aspect is a visit to the “green world,” which David Rush explains as any place where a character runs off to and experiences a change. In our case Felix leaves his “real” world at Cambridge knowing in the back of his mind the distraught relationship between him and his mother and goes to the “green world” otherwise their home and that relationship is repaired. Also a moment of cognitio occurs where the characters are enlightened with a moment of insight. [9]

Style[edit]

The style presented in Humble Boy follows most closely to that of an expressionist piece. A specific lens or point of view is given through Felix and his inner state. The setting often finds itself inside the mind of Felix and he is considered the victim in the play. The overall objective in the play is a quest towards a state of clarity.

Spectacle[edit]

Set: a pretty country garden, which may include a house or glass conservatory from which character enter into the garden. A patio area with a path through the garden. At the back there is an area for gardening tools; a chair or stool. At the end of the garden is a large beehive. An apple tree with some overhanging branches with a few apples. [12]

Music[edit]

Music is mainly used in the play as transitions between acts. Jim the gardener is often found humming to a tune. Many songs are also suggested and played throughout the play. In order here is as follows:

About the author[edit]

Charlotte Jones studied English at Balliol College, Oxford University, before training to become an actress. She worked for six years in theater and television and supported herself by working as a waitress. Her urge to write plays didn’t come about by a lifelong ambition; rather she was inspired to do so because up until then her career was that of a frustrated actor desperate for work. [11] Her first play, Airswimming, debuted at Battersea Arts Centre in 1998. She then proceeded to write In Flame and Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis before writing Humble Boy.

Production history[edit]

It premiered at the Royal National Theatre in 2001, directed by John Caird, with the leads played by Simon Russell Beale and Diana Rigg, and also featuring Cathryn Bradshaw, Denis Quilley, Marcia Warren and William Gaunt. This production won the 2001 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play and two 2001 Olivier Awards (for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for Marcia Warren; and Best Set Designer for Tim Hatley).

It has since also been produced at the Tarragon Theatre, the Vancouver Playhouse, the Theatre Calgary, the Citadel Theatre and the Manitoba Theatre Centre

Sources[edit]

[1] Jones, Charlotte. Humble Boy. Queen Square: Faber and Faber, 2001.

[3] Theatre Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Oct., 2002), pp. 483

[4] Theatre Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Oct., 2002), pp. 484

[5] Rush, David. "A Student Guide to Play Analysis." Southern Illinois Printing Press, 2005. Carbondale, IL. p38-39.

[6] James, Deborah. Humble Boy. Vancouver: National Arts Centre, 2005. p. 7

[7] Rush, David. "A Student Guide to Play Analysis." Southern Illinois Printing Press, 2005. Carbondale, IL. P68-78

[8] James, Deborah. Humble Boy. Vancouver: National Arts Centre, 2005. p. 4

[9] Rush, David. "A Student Guide to Play Analysis." Southern Illinois Printing Press, 2005. Carbondale, IL. P113-138

[11] Jones, Charlotte. "In her own write." Interview with Chloe Fox. Telegraph. 4 Feb. 2002. 2 Mar. 2009 <www.telegraph.co.uk>.

[12] Jones, Charlotte. Humble Boy. Queen Square: Faber and Faber, 2001. p. 1

External links[edit]

References[edit]