The Bee-Man of Orn

With such a wonderful title, it’s a shame that The Bee-Man of Orn is not as thrilling as it sounds. Newbury Youth Theatre has had great success in the past, but this adaptation appears to be a rare misfire.

There is clearly talent present within the group, but what is needed is a better story to tell and better judgement as to who to tell it.

The Bee-Man of Orn follows the title character as he attempts to discover who he was before he was the Bee-Man of Orn. I warn you now; the conclusion is underwhelming to say the least. Being unfamiliar with Frank R Stockton’s original 1887 story, I have no way to tell how faithful Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones’ adaptation is. But the story is advertised as being ‘philosophical’, which is not really an encouraging word for a Children’s Show aimed at those aged five and older. Perhaps five year olds are more philosophical these days than I give them credit for, but I’m almost certain that long-winded discussions about capitalism aren’t on the average Key Stage 1 curriculum. Nevertheless, the cast persist for a good while with the talk, feeling like a dying ripple from the pool of Monty Python.

Clearly this conversation was meant to be an extended ‘adult joke’ but it elicited the briefest of chuckles. It was not the only culprit though; if anything, the number of ‘adult jokes’ overwhelmed the show. The script seemed to forget it was a show for children, instead leaning heavily on self-referential, fourth-wall breaking humour that was overly cerebral and drawn-out. Aside from the fact that most of these moments were not funny anyway, the show made the critical error of completely ignoring its own target audience.

Nevertheless, the cast went for it with gusto and full credit must be given to them for their riotous energy up until the end. However, some tired glances between actors towards the end made it clear that even their enthusiasm for the show had limits. Musical theatre is not this company’s strongpoint – the few songs that happened were tiresome and not particularly well-sung. As actors however, the young company were much better, fully committing to the sillier parts of the story. A particular highlight was a trip to the water and the introduction of a ravenous river pike. At this point, it seems like things might brighten up and improve. But then the moment is broken by a badly-written fourth-wall sequence, and things go downhill from there.

The large horde of cast members serves to make the stage feel crowded. With better direction, this could have been avoided but many of the cast just seemed to be hanging around as a core group of actors drove the story forward. However, I did enjoy the creative use of hexagonal stage-blocks which, due to the sheer numbers onstage, were moved around efficiently and effectively. With better source-material, they could have helped define the show.

But ultimately, The Bee-Man of Orn is just a very boring story. The children present in the audience were fidgeting throughout and were clearly not engaged. One child literally fell off her seat, so distracted she had become from the story. I cannot recommend that parents pay the money required to take their families to see this show. To the young company however, I offer encouragement. There is clearly talent present within the group, but what is needed is a better story to tell and better judgement as to who to tell it.

Reviews by James Beagon

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The Blurb

This award-winning young company returns with an adaptation of Frank Stockton's magical tale about a man in search of himself. Told in NYT’s trademark style of rambunctious storytelling and suitable for anyone over five, the Bee-Man’s journey takes him to the deepest ocean, the court of a cruel king and the cave of the Very Imp. Over 30 years this group has won over critics and audiences alike, garnering four and five star reviews in the national and festival press. ***** (Herald). ***** (Editor’s Choice Award, ThreeWeeks). ***** (Bobby Award,