31 March 2022

Review: The Birds and the Bees, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

By Rachel Sloane

When you see an ‘intimacy coordinator’ (Jenefer Odell) listed in the programme, you know that the play is going to be… well, a little bit saucy! All I can say is that she did a good job. (The split-second timing with the lighting saved some blushes too). 

This attention to detail probably helped the actors in this hilarious comedy, as they were completely relaxed about the occasional nudity (one slightly hairy bottom, lots of underwear and some cover-ups via sheets and towels). 

On the stage were the main and spare bedrooms of Gail’s (played by Louise Gold) slightly dated and shabby country farmhouse in Norfolk. Her 38-year-old daughter Sarah (Laura Doddington), a turkey farmer, specialising in artificial insemination, arrives after splitting up with her husband. She finds her mum has stripped her old room of furniture but reluctantly, independent Gail temporarily lets her stay, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, surrounded by boxes.  Gail, a beekeeper in her 60’s, who is worried about her dying bees, has a prickly relationship with Sarah, who is shocked to realise her divorced mother hasn’t had sex in twenty years. Then there is Earl, (Siôn Tudor Owen) her rotund, bearded 60-year-old neighbour who rents Gail’s fields, frequently argues with her, and has had a string of lady friends, but no longer wants ‘commitment’. As he proudly says, ‘If you want your toes to curl, spend the night with Earl’. He now wants sex but with ‘NSA – no strings attached’.  

Into the mix comes an attractive 23-year-old American research student, Ben (Richard McIver) who is at the UEA, studying Gail’s bees and the possible effects on them from pesticides. 

After a night at the village Turkey Day Dance, and some local mead, the inevitable happens and Sarah and Ben spend the night on the mattress… leading to a frustrated Gail making a phone call to Earl across the road…

The consequences of the nights of passion are far-reaching.

The play is very funny, farce-like, but also has some poignant moments too. The cast all had great comic-timing, but special mention must go to Siôn Tudor Owen who fearlessly and hilariously danced, stripped down to his holey white pants, and showing off his impressive and generous physique, shall we say!  In the audience there was lots of laughter, plus, I suspect, the relief that for once two older actors, who looked like us, were happily having sex!  

Written in 2014, by Mark Crawford for the Blyth Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada, a rural farming community. It has been adapted for East Anglia by James McDermott, a Norfolk-based writer and is a New Wolsey, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, Norwich Theatre and John Stalker Productions, co-production.

See ‘The Birds and the Bees’ at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 9th April and then in Norwich, from  20-30th April, 2022, and Bury St Edmunds 3-7th May. It is suitable for those aged 14 plus.

The Birds and the Bees cast (photographs by Mike Kwasniak)