Directed by Kate Champion, written by Joanna Murray-Smith, set and costume by Simone Romaniuk
Honor (Lucy Bell) and her husband George (Huw Higginson) have been mediocrely married for 32 years. George has prioritised his illustrious writing career while Honor has left her own behind to take care of her family; her only daughter Sophie (Poppy Lynch). Their stark white perfect lives are abruptly changed for the worse (or the better?) when the vivacious Claudia (Ayeesha Ash) comes to interview George for her own writing endeavours. What follows is the shared struggle to make meaning of the consequences of this heartbreaking betrayal.
Murray-Smith describes Honour as ‘a boxing match of a play’, and just like a boxing match there were audible outbursts from the audience throughout. One audience member behind me couldn’t stop herself from remarking on Claudia, finishing George’s lines for him. More than once I felt myself caught up in the rest of the audience’s punch-to-the-gut outbursts, perhaps heightened because of our shared return to live theatre but most definitely built up by the delightful combination of rich text, impactful lighting and music, and faithfully precise acting.
The Ensemble Theatre, as dressed by Romaniuk, was an excellent backdrop for the dense text. Simplistic in light wood and white, with one towering bookshelf and a glass panel that lent itself well to our voyeuristic tendencies. Only two white bench seats and a matching table created multiple combinations of intimate spaces, matching the tone and pace of the text at each moment. Music between scenes by Nate Edmondson and varying shades of dark and light designed by Damien Cooper added to the precisely built tension at each stage, with bright white snapping to near blackness when we wanted to hear more and the browns and yellows hanging around when we needed to chew on what had just passed.
This play is a trudge through the mud of what exactly it is we owe to other people.
Champion’s direction gave us, in the tiered stalls, glimpses of intensity from every angle. Bell’s Honor was painfully rooted in her martyrdom, and Higginson’s George brought forth scoffs and sighs and an all-too-real familiarity for those of us who’ve been around highly intellectual men with their shyly-just-as-intelligent wives. The chemistry between the two was unmistakable, which made the farcical, shallow young love between Claudia and George that much more distasteful.
Lynch played her Sophie so closely to Bell’s Honor that we really might have mistaken one for the other, and her frustration at being inarticulate was palpable. Ash’s Claudia was loud, strong, naïve, and all the right things Honor could have been before she’d been trapped in the same marriage with George.
This play is a trudge through the mud of what exactly it is we owe to other people. While painful and physically exhausting, it is an important and completely new way of bringing to light the responsibilities, discomforts, and privileges of relying on someone else, and learning to rely instead on ourselves. The final moment when George predictably finds himself back on that bench next to Honor is worth never knowing who’s right and who’s wrong.
Photography by Prudence Upton
Honour is playing at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli NSW until 5 June 2021. Tickets range from $43 – $79.
CAST & CREW
CLAUDIA – AYEESHA ASH
HONOR – LUCY BELL
GEORGE – HUW HIGGINSON
SOPHIE – POPPY LYNCH
DIRECTOR – KATE CHAMPION
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER – SIMONE ROMANIUK
LIGHTING DESIGNER – DAMIEN COOPER
COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGNER – NATE EDMONDSON
STAGE MANAGER – ERIN SHAW
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – RENATA BESLIK
STAGE MANAGEMENT SECONDMENT – ISAAC BARRON
SOUND DESIGN SECONDMENT – ZACHARY SARIC
About the author
Charlotte is a poet, writer and lover of theatre born in Bathurst, raised in Wagga and educated in Wollongong, NSW. Her works have been published in Voiceworks, Baby Teeth Journal, Pine the Zine and The Tertangala. During her school years at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, she received the CAT award for ‘Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role in a Play’ for her performance as ‘Meg’ in Away. Other favourite roles she’s played include ‘Ruth’ in The Pirates of Penzance and ‘Beatrice’ in The Servant of Two Masters. Now that she’s almost grown up, Charlotte is an almost-admitted lawyer and would much prefer to write about or for the stage than be on it.