Honour at Park Theatre
Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s 1995 play Honour is being revived by producers Tiny Fires and Park Theatre mainly because they were drawn to its focus on the relationship dynamics between men and women, a subject deemed particularly relevant by them at this point in history. Arguably, gender politics has never ceased being a topical matter.
The production’s programme lists universality and timelessness as the play’s strengths, but unfortunately these traits also make it a generic and overall unremarkable story. A 32-year-old marriage is broken up after the husband, a smug intellectual, meets an outspoken young journalist. He decides to leave his wife, who had put her own writing career aside for him, and start anew in typical mid-life crisis style. The couple’s angry and disappointed daughter completes the picture, and many rows and “we need to talk” moments ensue.
It only takes a series of one-to-one interviews between junior journalist Claudia (Katie Brayben) and successful critic George Spencer (Henry Goodman) to reawaken in George a passion for life. His wife Honour (Imogen Stubbs), who had always found comfort and satisfaction in the predictability of their familiar, stable home life, must reassess her own existence, and also come to terms with her decision to interrupt her career prematurely shortly after she married. Meanwhile, their daughter Sophie (Natalie Simpson) finds her insecurities magnified without the safety net that her parents’ marriage provided.
It is clear from the first scene how the plot will pan out and indeed there are no surprises and no originality. The premise is straightforward and for the most part the dialogues play out exactly as expected, with some humour injected here and there.
The protagonists’ psychological journeys are handled rather superficially. George needs almost no convincing to leave his family behind overnight, Claudia has a completely new set of values by the end of the play, while husband and wife fight extensively and then simply don new outfits to signify they have moved on, without displaying any other signs of growth or deeper understanding of their situation.
The set is an attractive, minimalistic piece of design but seems detached from the play. The cast does deliver solid performances, but the didactic nature of the script means that the emotional dimension never really takes off. For a story centred around intense emotions, this is detrimental. What remains is the playwright’s opinions about loyalty and the meaning of love, which take over dialogues between characters who, one would assume, would be too distraught to philosophise about the experiences they are going through. Perhaps a reinvention of the plot could have given the revival more purpose and value.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Honour is at Park Theatre from 25th October until 24th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.