The Secret Life of Bees

book by Lynn Nottage
music by Duncan Sheik
lyrics by Sue Birkenhead
Almeida Theatre, London

With a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lynn Nottage and music by Tony Award-winning Duncan Sheik, there is a lot riding on this musical adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's bestselling novel. And it certainly delivers. 

Set in South Carolina in 1964 at the height of the civil rights movement, a white girl and her black housekeeper flee their hometown after a racially charged encounter and are taken in by a group of sisters running a beekeeping business. They battle prejudice and personal traumas but ultimately find their home amongst this strong, spunky group of women. 

What makes Whitney White's production particularly memorable is the music which bursts from the impeccable cast with such raw emotion that it's impossible to turn away. Combining soul, gospel and folk tunes, it plays out beautifully over pastel tones and dreamy lighting.

There are moments of melodrama to the narrative and certain strands feel unfinished but one is ultimately buoyed by the brilliant energy of the songs. Enervating, joyous and incandescent.

The Crystalwords score: 4/5


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