After premiering here at the National Theatre in 2003, then being revived at the Wyndham’s Theatre in 2006, Honour has found its way back to us at the Park Theatre, over a decade later. Joanna Murray-Smith’s play about marriage, monogamy and whether the two are compatible, is this time directed by Paul Robinson, starring Henry Goodman as ageing journalist George, and Imogen Stubbs as the titular Honour, a woman scorned. After 32 years of happy marriage and co-habitation, George decides he wants out after 29-year-old Claudia enters their lives, to write a profile on George’s academic achievements. Spurred on by flattery, F.O.M.O and his penis, George decides to leave Honour, a woman and a writer, who sacrificed her career to raise a child and build a home.
Goodman plays the bumbling bloke well, with just enough vulnerability and cluelessness to avoid us totally loathing George. But the real driving forces of the play are the women, particularly Stubbs as Honour. She takes us on a complete ride through devastation, disbelief, rage, and revenge. Scene by scene she switches from pure shaking fury, to teetering on the brink of a Miss Havisham-esque episode, to sheepish confusion and self-pity. She is occasionally calm and self-assured, as only time can make us, but only when sparring with Claudia, and the few scenes with just the two of them are insightful and fascinating.
Simpson as the couple’s poor daughter is full of understandable anger and youthful idealism. Her unflinching frankness coming from a place of pain is amusing to watch, as she tells her father “Look in the mirror – you are old!” Brayben seems mechanical and aloof in the first act, which can feel inauthentic and off-putting, like she is reading from a script – but this is thankfully shaken off in the second act as we are shown more of Claudia, her emotions and motivations.
The design by Liz Cooke is basic, but does the trick, as the meat of this play is in the writing. It’s genuinely funny, and costume compliments this as George, previously in the ‘old arty man’ uniform that is head to toe corduroy, re-emerges from his split from Honour looking like he’s starred in an episode of Queer Eye, sporting skinny jeans and Nike trainers. It’s embarrassing, he is embarrassing, but it’s bloody funny. It’s also painful, for everyone involved, and Murray-Smith has been brave to essentially ask the biggest question there is: what is love? And why is it only for love that we allow ourselves to disregard honour, promises, and vows? Searingly funny and wise, Honour is a devastating portrait of the unforgiving nature of love.
Honour is playing at the Park Theatre until 24 November. For more information and tickets, click here.