Honour (Ensemble) – theatre review

“There’s nothing original about the skeleton of Honour, the play” says its writer Joanna Murray-Smith. I would agree. Its subject has been tackled over and over – in film, theatre and book form – for centuries. It goes like this: Ageing male in long term marriage is seduced by young and exciting vixen. He leaves suffering wife for short term pleasure, only to find that comfort, security and love was with his family. The trick with Murray-Smith’s slant on this tale is her grasp of reality and the effective storytelling through four characters.

George (Huw Higginson) is a successful journalist. He carries an air of self-importance and achievement. No doubt he has worked hard to get the public recognition, but undervalues the personal price his family has paid. George is always thinking about the right words to write yet is unable to find the right words to say. Honor (Lucy Bell) has all the attributes of a loving wife: loyalty, self-sacrifice and a brilliant homemaker. She had a promising career as a writer once, but alas, a pregnancy and her husband’s career took precedence. Some might say she is weak and subordinate, but she just lived the way so many other loving wives did. Not that life was totally unfair to Honor. She and George have a wonderful daughter and an investment property.

Twenty-four-year-old Sophie (Poppy Lynch) is the hero. Streetwise and alert, Sophie is the innocent victim in her parents love hustle. She dosen’t hold back in laying the blame at the feet of her father. On a magazine assignment to profile George and his achievements is the young, vivacious and talented Claudia (Ayeesha Ash). She is the predator and the black-widow. With a nicely timed compliment to George, he becomes an idiot-figure, the classic mature male blinded by the opportunity to rediscover the horny rabbit within.

Honor and George were once attracted because their desire and intellect were equal. The choice had to be made about home versus work. Now, George and Claudia are equal in desire but on different planes of intellect. Claudia sees a fascinating future for herself. George cannot understand why she dosen’t want to sail the globe with him. George is only self-interested. He is the bully in relationships but meets his match in Claudia. Is it too late to heal the rift with Honor with honour?

This is a very watchable play. While predictable, I felt that something was missing in the story. Perhaps it needed a fifth character, a male. Someone who could give greater depth and explanation to the causes of male infidelity. The cast and crew are all consummate contributors. Each actor performs with precision. There are excellent dramatic moments and cutting humorous remarks. All is delivered with perfect timing and direction from Kate Champion. With a bright, contemporary set (Simone Romaniuk in responsible) backed up by appropriate lighting (Damien Cooper) and sound (Nate Edmondson), the production enabled the audience to digest the unfolding drama without distraction.

I highly recommend Honour. Its content will resonate with many who have suffered or inflicted the pain of betrayal.

Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith is playing at Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until 5 June 2021. Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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