Wednesday, 31 October 2018

REVIEW: Honour at Park Theatre

As soon as the lights come up on Henry Goodman as George, a journalist who has been married for thirty two years to Honor, as he is interviewed for a new book by a young attractive journalist Claudia, we are interested and engaged. His intellect, humour and self absorption is immediately clear in the charming amusing way he describes himself to the interviewer. You can see in his eyes he is attracted to her and she flirts and panders to him to get the story which she wants to build her profile and career. Over the subsequent two hours the playwright Joanna Murray-Smith uses these characters in a succession of short scenes, usually one on one, to explore feminist attitudes to career and marriage. 

Honour, played with a powerful heart wrenching intensity by Imogen Stubbs has given up her writing career as a successful published poet to support George and their daughter Sophie. They have a seemingly successful partnership and marriage until the Tuesday when he announces he is leaving and by Friday he has established a new life leaving behind his bewildered and heart broken family. I was in no doubt that the audience was divided in who they sided with depending on their gender and age. The writing was sharp witty and truthful and the alternative attitudes to women's life choices were balanced and insightful. It is suggested that marriage is "just the way two people grow old together " and that loyalty in marriage is " used to justify the absence of self ". 

Staged in the round in the Park 200 theatre with a collection of boxes acting as seats and tables and a minimum of props the four actors are observed close up by the audience and we can fully appreciate the detailed touching central performances of Henry Goodman and Imogen Stubbs in a way we would not be able to in a larger venue. They give spellbinding truthful performances with a full range of emotions from joy to rage and despair .It challenges us on what it is to love and to be loved and that a desire to be loved is not the same as being in love.

Katie Brayben as Claudia has a trickier role as the mouth piece for a feminist view that women's careers are suppressed by the hitherto traditional role of women as home makers but at the same time acting as the seductress who George falls for. As she says herself, "I've known I am desirable since I was twelve". Some of her scenes with Honour and Sophie seemed contrived and artificial in order to make the arguments rather than likely or real but nevertheless she gives us a Claudia (29) who is intellectual, determined, self confident and attractive. As she says "I don't intend to give up anything for anyone ". Sophie is played by Natalie Simpson who naturally sides with her mother but does not really know her parents but sees them as "bookish, clever and idealistic ". 

Director Paul Robinson ensures the action flows quickly like rounds in a boxing
tournament and ensures we don't see someone's back for too long as they face up to each other in the round. Some of the scene changes with cast members shoving boxes across the stage seem a little clumsy but this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the setting designed by Liz Cooke. 

This is a very fine piece of writing with a stellar cast who in the intimate setting of the Park 200 provide a wonderful truthful passionate debate about love , marriage and careers that is entertaining, thoughtful and intelligent just as good theatre and strong marriages need to be. We are left to ponder who in a long term relationship should do the love, honour and obeying!

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★
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