The ease with which Ido, protagonist of The Bee, morphs from law-abiding and rather boring businessman – of the kind who present their sons with calculators for their 6th birthday – to terrorising monster is stupefying but altogether not far removed from reality. After all, murderers lead at least some semblance of a ‘normal’ life up until that fateful murderous day. Perhaps it was because of this knowledge that The Bee made for such unsettling viewing. When his family is kidnapped, Ido refuses to play the victim and takes the kidnappers’ wife and son as hostages. What was initially a matter of revenge on Ogoro, the stammering escapee murderer who wants his wife back, soon descends into cold sickening pleasure for Ido.
Jarringly bright lights, blood-red floors and screaming Japanese music set the mood at the Soho Theatre for this chilling comedy, a collaborative effort by Hideki Noda OBE and Colin Teevan. They have mingled hilarity with horror; The Bee is both funny and vaguely terrifying. The script has a discordant aspect: the sentences are brief, rhyming occasionally, resulting in a terseness broken only by sound effects of varying degrees of irritation. Combined with the strident tone of delivery used by the four actors, the script imposes its disturbed idea on the audience members, who cannot help but laugh even when, for example, Ido is cutting a third finger off the little boy hostage.
Four actors played ten characters: there was much, and impressive, gender bending of roles. Olivier Award winning actress Kathryn Hunter was the sociopathic Ido; the repugnant aura that the character exudes from the start was a stroke of real inspiration. The useless police inspector, who has the task of delivering Ido’s and Ogoro’s messages of escalating violence, was played by Clive Mendus. Mendus was also responsible for a telephone ringtone of dizzyingly irritating proportions – earplugs would have been a good idea for this particular moment. Glyn Pritchard metamorphosed seamlessly from misogynistic detective Anchoku to Ogoro’s son and eventually to Ogoro himself. These metamorphoses were choreographed with astuteness: Pritchard, confident as the loud-mouthed Anchoku, takes a bat to the head when Ido loses his patience with police procedure. He keels over and as Ido drags an imaginary body away, Pritchard dons a green cap and with scared eyes, instantly becomes Ogoro’s terrified son. Ogoro’s wife is a pitiable character, played with surprising sex-appeal and femininity by Hideki Noda, the writer himself. The wife is forced into submission by Ido and by the end barely complains against the bestiality flung upon her.
The acting and staging are both impeccable, but The Bee fails to entirely come together on some fundamental level, This is perhaps because, while the hilarity and horror succeed as individual characteristics of The Bee, they are never effectively welded together and at times even cancel each other out. Neither characteristic was emphasised with sufficient strength in the script, both falling slightly flat, and unable to create a vivid enough impression on the viewer. The play, with its aggravating reporters and useless police force, is already something of a caricature of society; a greater degree of exaggeration would not have hurt it. In spite of this, The Bee entertains and even poses some interesting questions about the more abominable depths of human nature. At just over an hour in length, it would be the perfect start to an evening out in Soho, providing at the very least a wealth of material for discussion.
The Bee at the Soho Theatre until February 11. Student tickets from £17.50