We take a look at what is being said about the new musical based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, now playing at the Almeida Theatre until the 27th May 2023.

(c)Marc Brenner

Broadway World: **** “Overall, The Secret Life of Bees is a production that will resonate strongly with audiences of all ages.”

The Stage: *** “Songs carry the emotion in an ambitious musical of friendship and the American civil rights struggle that lacks subtext.”

Time Out: *** “With its honied musical textures, rich lighting, some beautiful design from Soutra Gilmour – I could look at the honeycombs all day – and heartfelt intersectionalism, ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ has a lot going for it. But slow pacing and a muted protagonist means it never gets out of first gear – worth you time, but as bees go it’s more bumble than killer.”

The Guardian: **** “There is a honeyed tone to the drama that could be dreadfully schmaltzy but here passes for sweetness. Some characters are reduced to types, especially the vulnerable Lily (beautifully performed by Worthington-Cox nonetheless) and her abusive father, T-Ray (Mark Meadows). The story meanders, comes to a standstill at times and leaves loose threads. What is surprising is that none of this matters. Come for the music. Go home in awe.”

The Telegraph: **** “This adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s 2001 novel, set against the background of the civil rights movement, has charm and warmth to spare.”

WhatsOnStage: **** “This is a company in tune with each other in every sense, and a production that in the end is impossible to resist. I’m not convinced the show will prove a mainstream success, short as it is on knock-out tunes, but it’s a highly enjoyable chamber piece that speaks to issues we still see rumbling on today (scenes of racist police brutality are particularly evocative). It may be a wholly American story, but it should rightly make a buzz on this side of the pond.”

Evening Standard: *** “Frankly, any show that addresses racism and the legacy of slavery is welcome right now, when so many voices seek to deny or downplay both issues. The Secret Life of Bees embraces many troubling tropes, mixes them all up in a musical bran tub, and – I think – synthesises something new. See for yourself: you certainly won’t be bored.”

The Independent: **** “The novel is plotty, but playwright Lynn Nottage’s update makes some smart tweaks, altering aspects that could have jarred, and emphasising the political context. But the truest pleasure is Duncan Sheik’s score, with lyrics by Sue Birkenhead, and how gorgeously it is sung by this cast.”

West End Best Friend: **** “The songs themselves, with music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics from Susan Birkenhead, provide a wonderful wave of emotion that soars around the venue. Though few of the songs themselves are instantly memorable, the way they make you feel stays with you. And isn’t that what’s more important? The songs crafted feel confident and necessary in their place in the production. It’s clear that this story hasn’t been made a musical for the sake of it and careful consideration has gone into blending book and music as one cohesive production.”

Lost in Theatreland: **** “Duncan Sheik’s music and Susan Birkenhead’s lyrics are what make this show remarkable. I don’t think there was a single song that didn’t give me goosebumps. I could watch ‘Tek a Hol a My Sol’ over and over, where the Daughters of Mary (Madeline Charlemagne, Shekinah McFarlane, Christine Symone) give the most passionate performance I have ever seen.”

The Reviews Hub: **** “Soutra Gilmour’s revolving set, a barebones wooden frame of a southern country home, is beautifully lit in honeycomb shades by Neil Austin. Queen Jean’s costumes, soft yellows, amber, chestnut, and coffee browns are pitch perfect. It there is justice in the world the Almeida should have a hit on its hands here. This is an unmissable serving of fresh and joyful theatre.”

iNews: **** “Worthington-Cox and Omonua make a fine central pairing; when their voices blend and soar the result is exquisite. The book was criticised in some quarters for foregrounding Lily’s story and that issue persists here. Nonetheless, Worthington-Cox is a pleasure to watch as Lily traces a tentative arc from fear to openness, her delicate face lighting up with love and acceptance.”

Musical Theatre Review: **** “To that end, Rachel John emerges as the true star of The Secret Life of Bees. In her hands, the kindly matriarchal figure of August Boatwright becomes something more powerful. The leader of a group of women who worship a status of the Virgin Mary as a Black woman, John’s August becomes almost deified herself.”

Culture Whisper: *** “Nottage’s book isn’t an exact replica of the plot in Kidd’s novel. It’s lighter in places but also brings the era’s Black oppression to the fore.”

Theatre Cat: “Its always an exhilarating thing when a show gets you going early with its musical energy and defiant storytelling, but then loses you for a while (what IS this unsettling hysterical ritual round the statue of the black Virgin Mary?) but then strikingly , memorably ,redeems itself until you want to cheer it.”

The Secret Life of Bees continues to play at the Almeida Theatre until the 27th May 2023.


%d bloggers like this: