Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 11 February 2020

Review: The Bee in Me at Unicorn Theatre

Come fly with me: Ava Wong-Daves and her 11-year-old niece team up to review Roland Schimmelpfennig’s insect-based show.

Ava Wong Davies

‘The Bee in Me’ at Unicorn Theatre. Design: Khadija Raza. Lighting: Joshua Pharo. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Scarlett: It was amazing!!!!!

Ava: It was great! What did you like about it? When we were in the theatre you said it was realistic, but also alive.1

Scarlett: I liked that three people played one person. So it was about one kid but it wasn’t played by just one kid.2

Ava: What do you think that did? Why do you think they did that? 

Scarlett: Well it felt like I was actually a bee. I can’t believe that was one hour twelve minutes.

Ava: It was actually just one hour.

Scarlett: !!!!!! You said it was one hour twelve!!!!!!

Ava: I know, I’m sorry, it was actually not that. I lied to you.3

Scarlett: It’s alright. 

Ava: What else did you like? Was there anything you didn’t understand?

Scarlett: Nope!

Ava: Nope! You understood all of it. It was quite sad, wasn’t it?

Scarlett: Sad?

Ava: Well because his parents weren’t able to take care of him.4

Scarlett: Yeah. Well why didn’t they show what the parents looked like?

Ava: I think because it’s not about the parents. It’s about the kid. And because so much of the rest of his life is about like – “I can’t wake up my parents, I need to tiptoe past them” and all that stuff – so this was the space where he could just have his own story, without them intruding.5 

Scarlett: How did they light that box?

Ava: The box?

Scarlett: The box!

Ava: Oh like the stage? I think that behind the wall there would be lots of lights and wires that we can’t see from the audience. It looked pretty though, didn’t it?6 

Scarlett: Yeah. I wanted to see what happened in the morning!

Ava: I think it started again. 

Scarlett: !!

Ava: I think that was the whole idea. The game starts again from the beginning. Which is a bit sad, I think. 

Scarlett: ??

Ava: Yeah because it happens again and again, it repeats itself. But there is always hope that the next day will be different, even if that hope doesn’t come true. That’s what keeps him going. Do you get what I mean?7 The actors were good, weren’t they? They were funny. Were they good at pretending to be a bee?

Scarlett: YES. I absolutely believed them. For one second.8

Ava: One second is enough! 

Scarlett: It absolutely felt like it could actually happen to you. 

Ava: All of it? The bee bit?

Scarlett: Yeah I wish it could.

Ava: You wish you could be a bee? 

Scarlett: I wish I could transform into a bee whenever I want.

Ava: And fly away?

Scarlett: Yeah.

Ava: What if you got swatted? 

Scarlett: So what I would do is I would transform into a bee and fly around and avoid everyone and get my lunch…

Ava: If someone was annoying you then you could just fly away. 

Scarlett: And I would fly up and escape and then turn back into a normal size and then turn back into a bee and fly downstairs and outside and then just…be a bee! Yeah!

Ava: I’d like to just fly away sometimes. So why was it better than you thought it was going to be? What did you think it was going to be like?

Scarlett: I thought it was just going to be a random boy who turns into a bee. And that would have been really boring. And not realistic at all.

Ava: Having three of them in the cast let them bounce off each other which was nice. It was a bit like a video game wasn’t it?

Scarlett: Oh yeah.

Ava: Like level one, level two…

Scarlett: Yeah.

Ava: Do you play video games? 

Scarlett: No. I hate video games. I just like Minecraft. 9

Ava: Why do you like Minecraft? Because you can just create everything? 

Scarlett: Because it’s adventurous!

Ava: And you make your own adventure, right?10

Scarlett: Yeah and there’s no guns. 

Ava: You can just kinda do what you want and no-one will bother you. Scarlett, do you like this theatre?

Scarlett: I love it.

Ava: You love it! Why do you love it?

Scarlett: Everyone is nice here. And I like the name.11

Footnotes

1 Scarlett was seriously bang on with this. Roland Schimmelpfennig and David Tushingham (writer and translator respectively) have moulded a taut, sharp script about a boy who wakes up one morning and finds himself turned into a bee. The text is vivid without ever being florid; endlessly propulsive but still thoughtful.

2 Emily Burnett, James Russell-Morley and Akshay Sharan all play the role of the boy, cohesive and convincing as a single unit, but different enough that the dynamic feels textured –less of a hive mind, more like three separate points on the same star.

3 It flies by. 😉 

4 There’s a surprising amount of darkness in The Bee in Me – or maybe that isn’t surprising and just says a lot about how I think about children’s theatre. Parental neglect, stranger danger, and bullying – It’s all deftly threaded through by Schimmelpfennig and handled with grace by Rachel Bagshaw’s sensitive direction. None of it cloys, and nothing feels twee – just quietly truthful.

5 I think this can almost be seen as an embodiment of the Unicorn’s mission statement – granting a space for kids to explore and feel validated.

6 Khadija Raza’s design is all blank white walls, studded with colourful little lights. You are granted a wealth of white space to paint with your imagination, and yet you are also cloistered in by external constraints – much like being a kid, I guess.

7 I am losing her, at this point. She’s wandering around the Unicorn foyer.

8 Annie-Lunette Deakin-Foster’s choreography is lovely – tactile and fluid, occasionally tipping into slow-motion sequences which feel suggestive of Street Fighter video games.

9 Minecraft is the bestselling video game of all time. You play as a super pixelated character and basically just craft and search for raw materials with which you can build structures. Quite peaceful.

10 It’s an interesting comparison for Scarlett to make – tapping into the idea that for kids, the world is pliant and ready for the taking. It’s whatever you make of it.

11 And there you have it. We came out buzzing.

The Bee In Me is on at Unicorn Theatre until 1st March. More info and tickets here. Or for more child labour on Exeunt, read Duška Radosavljević’s toddler-authored Edinburgh dialogues or Alice Saville’s trip to Forced Entertainment’s kids show with her nine-year-old niece

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Ava Wong Davies is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Bee in Me at Unicorn Theatre Show Info


Directed by Rachel Bagshaw

Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig

Cast includes Emily Burnett, James Russell-Morley, Akshay Sharan

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