Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 23 – May 5, 2021
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Lucy Bell, Huw Higginson, Poppy Lynch
Images by Prudence Upton
After 32 years of marriage, George, a renowned writer, suddenly decides that he is no longer in love with Honour. To be more precise, he simply no longer wants a life with her. Unsurprisingly, this change of heart is precipitated by the appearance of a younger woman, Claudia, who had been assigned to interview George for a publication. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s wonderfully contentious play Honour, the meanings of love, marriage and fidelity, are brought under scrutiny.
Some of our most fundamental values come into scintillating question by the work, as good art is want to do. Four characters, with differing perspectives, challenge the way we think about something that seems so often, to be prescribed and immovable. Additionally, a modern approach to the depiction of female desire, encourages us to examine romantic partnerships in renewed ways. Issues around duty and responsibility, as they apply to womanhood (who we care for, and who to care for us) further broaden the scope of how we regard these long-established notions of matrimony and family.
Although never too radical in temperament, Murray-Smith’s work bears intellectual dimensions that are deeply compelling. She presents her ideas in a way that feels accessible, but encourages us to go further with how we consider repercussions (for her characters, and for ourselves) as they appear through her narrative. Directed by Kate Champion, there is no shortage of richness in how the production discusses these topics. In fact, it often appears that philosophy comes before drama, in Champion’s presentation of Honour. The result is a rewarding experience of theatre, even if its dialogue can sometimes move quicker than our minds can keep up with.
Actor Lucy Bell invests heavily into emotional authenticity for her portrayal of Honour, the jilted wife. The human complexities in Honour’s reactions to her predicament are rendered soundly by Bell, who makes believable the extraordinarily cerebral way that this wronged woman processes her trauma. The other woman Claudia is compassionately interpreted by Ayeesha Ash, who prevents the audience from too easily dismissing the role for her problematic actions. It is in our understanding of Claudia, that we can attain a more sophisticated appreciation of the play’s ideas. George is made surprisingly sympathetic by Huw Higginson, a sensitive performer unjudgmental of the celebrity writer’s dubious choices. Honour and George’s daughter Sophie is played by an energetic Poppy Lynch, who succeeds at making substantial, a comparatively small role.
Production design by Simone Romaniuk is elegant and evocative, with a simplicity that complements the show’s performance style, focussing our attention closely on the intricacy of dynamics between characters. Damien Cooper’s lights too, offer generous enhancement to the tone of each scene, gracefully moving us from one mood to another. Music by Nate Edmondson adds a sense of flamboyance to the story’s inherent dramatics, effective at turning every seemingly mundane circumstance into something unequivocally theatrical.
We put so much time and effort into this thing called love, but rarely do we interrogate the impulses that lead us to it. In the play Honour, we can recognise that the experience of love, is influenced so much by factors that relate to social conditioning, or “the way we are brought up”. What feels natural and organic, is so heavily informed by beliefs that have been unconsciously, but actively, cultivated, yet to dare shift parameters around what is and is not permitted in how one chooses to experience love, is often met with disapproval. When George declares that he is no longer in love, in the old-fashioned way, with Honour, the overwhelming pang of betrayal is obvious to all. To want him to stay because of guilt, debt and responsibility however, is not what Honour deserves.