Theatre has the power to communicate important messages and difficult topics in a way that is accessible, and The Bee in Me at the Unicorn Theatre did just that. The script, originally written in German by Roland Schimmelpfennig, was excellently translated by David Tushingham to retain impact and communicate effectively, and keep to the cleverly thought out storyline. References to relatable concepts and ideas connected the young target audience to the piece, and kept their attention.
The plot follows a child throughout their typical day, but they have woken with the extraordinary ability to become a bee. They realise they are in a video game, and must keep surviving to get through to the next level. The challenges they face are a result of the neglect of their parents. In the end they find strength and comfort from the Queen Bee, and the next day awake to find they can fly away and escape. This was one part of the storyline and message of the play that could be improved; children are vulnerable and although the difficulties of suffering from neglect were addressed, a real-life solution or advice was not offered.
Three actors, Emily Burnett, James Russell-Morley, and Akshay Sharan, took on the role of the child, which was also a role the audience took on, meaning each audience member could relate to the child. The actors seamlessly passed the role of the child between each other, and at times all 3 played the child at once. At other moments they personified other characters, shown through changes in body language and voice. Sharan’s portrayal of the sailor was particularly effective, using stereotypical gestures of a video game character.
All three actors gave energetic performances. Rachel Bagshaw’s direction utilised space, levels, proximity to the audience, audience participation, and physical theatre to captivate the audience and retain their attention. Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster’s choreography transitioned from movement to movement well, and moments were highlighted and marked through freeze frames or moments of stillness.
The sound in The Bee in Me by Jon McLeod featured an electronic soundtrack that resembled a video game to heighten the atmosphere. The action on stage moved with the rhythm and sound of the music, that featured beats and sound effects with moments that built up and down. The set by Khadija Raza and lighting by Joshua Pharo featured 3 white walls at the back of the thrust stage, covered in small round lights that changed colour and pattern to create the different levels and settings within the video game. This was very effective.
Overall The Bee in Me was an energetic play that suited its target audience and sensitively tackled a serious topic. But at times the actors did not seem prepared for the response of the young viewers, and the storyline created more questions for the audience, than it solved, in relation to its message.