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24:7 review, The Fading Hum

Joan Davies is likes the buzz of the play but isn’t bee-sotted

Published on July 27th 2010.

24:7 review, The Fading Hum

The Fading Hum, written by Charlotte Essex and directed by Laura Keefe is a thoughtful piece of theatre, well-acted and carefully directed. Performed at Manchester’s excellent and unique 24:7, a festival of new writing delivered in one hour plays in non-theatre spaces.

The play is promoted as one which explores big concepts such as guilt, death and estrangement and it has already been short-listed for the Nick Darke Award

The title refers to the recent decline in bee populations, starting in America and now mirrored in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, but, in this play, centred on one farm in a remote location.

Robin has returned to his childhood home on the farm after years in the city. The family farm is now run by his brother Ted, and there are clearly tensions between the brothers.

This is something of a familiar tale, but it is given a new approach through the bee motif. The Fading Hum is one of those plays where the past is known by most of the characters but only gradually revealed to the audience and the characters make their inevitable journey through acceptance towards progress, or away from it. At times writing like this can feel like cheating, but not in these confident hands.

The gradual unfolding of past events appears natural and is aided by the catalyst presence of Melissa, a bee-expert, who has mysteriously crashed her car on the way to visit the farm to investigate the death of the bees.

Antonia Kinlay, as Melissa, has a beautifully calm voice which might charm bees. She certainly charms the brothers. Jack Monaghan as Robin, the troubled returnee, instigates both audience empathy and frustration as the young man who carries guilt but too often displays contempt and fear.

Jay Taylor is firmly convincing giving a solid and layered performance as Ted the solid stay-at-home, carrying on the family traditions and devoted to the care of the bees.

Adults with no brothers or sisters don’t get the nature of the sibling relationship forged in childhood; the bickering, the rivalry, the resentment, and the implacable unity when faced with an outside threat. Here it’s beautifully written and portrayed, even down to the different memories of key childhood events, etched on one brain and absent from another.

Apparently sick bees leave the hive to die elsewhere, preserving the others from infection. The parallels are obvious, but incomplete, and it’s in the treatment of the bigger issues where the writing and hence the actors appear less assured.

The play is promoted as one which explores big concepts such as guilt, death and estrangement and it has already been short-listed for the Nick Darke Award – a prize to help a young writer finish a piece of writing related to the environment.

Perhaps at an hour the play is too short. The role of Melissa, in particular her relationship with death, lacks clarity as written and may need more time to be fully explored, and the final relationship between the brothers is sewn-up a little too quickly. However this is a strong piece of observational writing by a young writer not afraid to tackle large themes and not scared of experimenting.

The Fading Hum is part of the 24:7 Theatre Festival which runs until Sunday 1 August at New Century House. Dates and times vary; see the website for details.

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