Theatre / The Beemaster / An Enemy of the People Bristol Old Vic

Click to follow
Many actors have a one-man show up their sleeves as a stop-gap for any lulls in their careers. Chris Harris has three and they have become more of a mainstay than a fallback. The first, a Shakespearean romp called Kemp's Jig, is now 20 years old and still jigging.

The Beemaster, Harris's fourth solo performance, gives him a chance to display his music-hall technique as a beekeeping monk, who, in the second half, gets his wish to be reincarnated as a bee. The monk is drawn from a real-life character at Buckfast Abbey who has accumulated the folklore of bees as civilisation in miniature, but taking a more sanguine view than any welfare state. For example, bees accept that a majority will work like stink to support a minority who are idle. For order and industry, bees are way ahead of us.

This half of The Beemaster is full of whimsical philosophy. Harris relaxes into the part, with benevolent good humour, joshing the audience into a continual titter, occasionally exploding a belly laugh with muttered asides. His monk is a wicked old charmer, the only one allowed to speak, and makes most of the privilege.

The second half is robust music hall, with Harris plundering dead comics' routines for any vestige of a bee joke. There is audience participation and bawdy side-play, all presented, as Max Miller would have said, without a hint of vulgarity. The Beemaster is a worthy addition to the repertoire for Harris, an actor who carries his props in a box and boasts that all he needs to do a show is a 13-amp socket.

A rthur Miller's adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People has not disturbed the run of the play, but has eased it into contemporary phraseology and edited some of the harangues.

The story of a spa town facing financial disaster because of contaminated water resonates with historical and contemporary parallels. The arguments that the cleverest in the land and the national dunce cancel each other out in a democratic election, and that the view of the majority is 50 years behind the view of the enlightened minority at any time, are valid and insoluble. Miller plays down Ibsen's case for a master race of intellectuals.

Christian Rodska plays the awkward Dr Stockman with an air of impatient arrogance. The good doctor needs the defects given to him by Ibsen to stop him flying up to heaven. This is a major part for Rodska. His character controls the pace of the play and he takes it at the run. Pauline Moran plays his wife, torn between honesty and pragmatism and floundering in between. There are several important parts that are well filled in this sturdy production. Jerome Willis is solid as Stockman's brother, who suggests that sibling rivalry is more likely to be the cause of the trouble. Sarah Beckett, as Stockman's spirited daughter, is a traditional Ibsen heroine. John Elms is suitably oily as the scheming newspaper editor. The outdoor meeting spreads all over the auditorium and is a splendid piece of dramatic action.

'The Beemaster' returns to the Bristol Old Vic Studio, 28 May to 1 June. 'An Enemy Of The People' runs to 1 June (Booking: 0117-987 7877)