Theatre Review - The Secret Life of Bees

Adapted from Sue Monk Kidd’s best-selling novel, The Secret Life of Bees has been transformed into an uplifting musical with book by Lynn Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead.

Set in 1964, South Carolina, President Johnson has just signed the civil rights act. Black housekeeper Rosaleen (Abiona Omonua) is determined to exercise her right to vote, and Lily (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), the motherless white teenager she looks after, is desperate to escape her violent father, T-Ray (Mark Meadows).

After Rosaleen suffers a brutal racist attack and a spell in prison, the pair decide to flee their small town. They find refuge at a honeybee farm run by the Boatwright sisters which thrives on mutual support, equality and love.

The Queen bee is astute businesswoman August Boatwright (Rachel John). Together with May (Danielle Fiamanya) and June (Ava Brennan) she has created an alternate religion represented by a statue of a Black Madonna which helps nurture their sense of female solidarity and whose image adorns their honey pots.

Led to the farm by a picture of this Madonna, Lily realises that her late mother has been here before her and discovers a link with August. Being with the women, conquering her fear of bees and learning to care for them, gives Lily the strength to overcome her own prejudice and confront her personal demons. Rosaleen, meanwhile, finds the community she needs to flourish.

Accompanied by a live band, the harmonies soar and there are some memorable solos. I particularly liked Worthington-Cox’s vocal range and Tarrinn Callender, who plays June’s suitor, sings a delightfully impassioned proposal: “Marry Me.”

Whitney White’s production skilfully balances the story’s light and shade, while Shelley Maxwell’s dynamic choreography and Soutra Gilmour’s evocative set are suffused in lovely honeyed tones by Neil Austin’s lighting.

Warmly recommended.

Until May 27

Originally published by Islington Tribune