Quaint Honour at Finborough Theatre
The repressions and paranoia of 1950s English boarding schools are explored in Quaint Honour, staged at the Finborough Theatre for the first time since 1958. The subterfuge of a campus romance is tricky to pull off, as the stakes can feel relatively low, but the timeliness of this production (as an anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexuality) seeks to make it, and this particular text, relevant again.
The plot takes a generous dose of Dangerous Liaisons infused with The History Boys, minus the pep and brevity of both pieces. Tully and Turner are intertwined, despite their overzealous head prefect’s best efforts to root out the noxious practices of their nighttimes. With their master taking judicious watch over the boys’ behaviour, Tully nonetheless accepts Turner’s bet – whether his well-worn charisma is enough to lure Hamilton, a particularly pallid junior. As affection surprisingly ensues, the boys begin a game of cat-and-mouse that exposes at once the rigidity and fearfulness of the era’s mores.
While Quaint Honour at times relies on schoolboy innuendo perhaps better suited to softcore than to the stage, there’s an admirable intellectual streak running through the piece – which is at once its strength, and also what dates it. Its diatribes on the war, atheism and sexuality have aged, which is understandable, but less so when we consider the Shakespeare they recite within the play comes alive with more vim and vigour. While there are strands of curiosity thanks to this time capsule-like effect, the lack of editing and the sheer length of the piece (it runs over two-and-a-half hours), undermine the initial punch of its key monologues.
However, occasionally a single performance can overwhelm the mediocrity of its trappings, and lift up the entire show with it. Such is the case with Harley Viveash’s Tully; not a single false note, he bellows life into every line, getting rid of all cobwebs in the process. The other boys have all the requisite pluck and pomp the script demands, with a clear relish for the tart one-liners – Jack Archer’s Hamilton especially, as he tracks with finesse his Pygmalion-esque makeover from ingénue to adult. But these talented young actors are underserved by a script that has perhaps languished with reason in the preceding decades, and a running time that makes the characters talk themselves out of sense. Quaint Honour, saddled with that amnesiac title and its cumbersome script, is a curio for those interested in the era, rather than the startling revival it hopes to be.
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
Quaint Honour is at Finborough Theatre from 29th October until 21st November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Finborough Theatre website here.