A journey of discovery, with riotous fun on the way
Most people now agree that Climate Change is a real problem for the future of humanity. What few people know is that the humble bee is facing even bigger problems! Changes in temperature are affecting the synchronisation of plant-pollinator interactions and damaging the sustainability of crops and natural habitats.
But how can we get this message out to the masses?
How can we make humanity stop and listen to the plight of a little bee?
On 2 May, award-winning theatre company ThisEgg brought their production Me And My Bee to the Richard Whiteley Theatre. The audience were met at the doors by our two storytellers, Josie (a charmingly commanding Josie Dale-Jones) and Greta (a delightful Greta Mitchell), then in the auditorium by a man dressed in black and yellow lycra, and a rather fetching antennae hat. The party was already in full swing, the music pumping and the lights flashing, and our bee-man (a relentlessly entertaining Joe Boylan) was dancing his little bee-feet off, before encouraging us too to learn the bee dance. The stage was sparsely set with just a few cardboard boxes of assorted props and a standing flipchart, but was strewn with party poppers, petals, dollar notes and confetti as the show went on.
Our narrators tell us that one day they met a lost bee and were inspired to tell his story; we are given an interactive and informative lesson on the different types of bee, we have a song and a dance, and are then thrown into a love story. You know how it goes: bee sees flower, flower sees bee, and they dance to the strains of Earth Angel by Marvin Barry and the Starlighters while a mirror ball lights up the theatre. Joe promises to visit the flower tomorrow but is suddenly bombarded with obstacles: the sounds of cars rushing past throw him off balance, Josie enters on a yellow space-hopper labelled ‘the sun’ and beats him with it as the flower wilts, a spray bottle labelled ‘pesticide’ is produced and sprayed on both him and the flower. The stage lights change to funky colours as the bee becomes intoxicated by the fumes, while in moments of clarity our poor, weakening flower sings sweetly to her lost love, hoping he will come back and help her to spread her pollen. Finally, Josie returns in a builder’s hat and plucks the flower from her bed, replacing her with a building. Joe completes the sequence in stunned silence, telling the audience that he needs help, he is just so small; he can’t do it alone. The play ends with a call to arms, the company inviting us to join them as members of the Bee Party, plant seeds and help the bees to thrive.
The show was fast-paced with dramatic lighting, sound and music cues (designed by Lucy Adams) highlighting vital moments in the story. It’s truly a show for the meme and gif generation, using well known songs to create an immediate impact for the audience. But equally effective were those few breaks of stillness and silence, such as the moment we were asked to consider that a world without bees also meant a world without humans, as the dry-ice rose up and filled the stage, the lighting turned cold and tumbleweed sounds filled our ears, before snapping back into the typical cheerful mayhem.
Audience participation is integral to the production, addressing and involving the audience right from the beginning. Joe the Bee interviewed the audience, asking if they have ever been stung, questioning a boy on the front row how it had affected his life. A girl was invited onstage and played a game of ‘pin the tail on the bee’, which saw our bee running through and around the audience to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s I Like Big Butts. The audience were asked at one point to join hands and close their eyes, intoning with the narrators the words ‘solitary bee’, until the sound became like the droning of a busy beehive. We were constantly reminded that we were part of a show, the actors referring to the fact that their songs are self-written, and seeing character relationships develop as tensions rise when, in scripted moments, the show is held up by the other actors. The cast even add some theatre in-jokes, such as when the bee runs headlong at the audience only to smack into an imaginary window and Josie quips “I thought we’d already broken the fourth wall!”
The company were careful never to get too political and keep the mood light, even when dealing with darker topics. The actors used stylised movement to exhibit the roles of aspiring politicians, pacing back and forth in a pair across the stage using gestures we all recognise from the news. The audience enjoyed a few quotes from world leaders, at one point hearing Donald Trump proudly announce America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement against the visual of Josie, wearing a yellow wig and boxing gloves, beating up our lovely bee. We also saw our two storytellers wielding sheaves of wheat, to a soundbite of PM Theresa May describing how she and her friends would run through local farmer’s wheat fields. They were unafraid of dealing with the harder truths of the story, always in a way that softened the facts for their younger audience members, but never losing the emotional weight of their message.
Me And My Bee was a riot from start to finish, the cast brought us along on the journey of discovery; meeting our bee and seeing life from his perspective finally inspired us all to do more to help. By the end of the show, everyone in the theatre raised their hands to join the Bee Party, because as they so rightly say: buzz-buzz, buzz-buzz-buzz, save the bees; save the world.