After much off-stage drama, Joanna Murray-Smith has an STC gig, and the play that marks this occasion is Honour. 

 Sydney Theatre CompanyDrama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Thursday, 22 April,  2010
After much off-stage drama, Joanna Murray-Smith has an STC gig, and the play that marks this occasion is Honour. It’s a piece that’s both entertaining and frustrating. The story of a woman who sacrificed her own career for the sake of her husband’s seemed out of date when it was written in 1995, let alone 2010. However the talented cast, under the direction of Lee Lewis, makes the most out of this familiar tale of domestic bliss gone wrong. With Honour, it’s all about the writing. Honor (Wendy Hughes), Claudia (Paula Arundell) and George (William Zappa) are all scribblers at different stages of their careers. Honor showed promise early on, but sacrificed everything for George. George is successful and respected, attracting the attention of Claudia. Promising and determined, Claudia vows not to make the mistakes she believes Honor has made. Honour tends to be a touch obvious, as you may have noticed by the time George declares that “Honor is gone.” There’s no subtext, and very little tension. You never need to wonder about a character’s feelings or motivations, because they carefully spell it out for you. It’s a little ironic, given that this lack of nuance is exactly the criticism that George levels at Claudia’s writing. That’s not to say that Honour doesn’t have anything going for it. Murray-Smith has a sharp wit and a talent for acerbic ripostes. She also knows how to depict a moment of crisis. George’s announcement of his imminent departure is the catalyst for a powerful explosion of energy on stage. Yet Murray-Smith seems to be at a loss as to how to channel that energy. It rolls monotonously on and on, scene after argumentative scene. It’s a bit like being stuck in a car with a driver who insists they know exactly where they’re going, and no, they don’t need to stop and ask for directions, thank you very much. Having said all that, it’s hard to lose with a cast like this. Arundell is an actor who rarely puts a foot wrong, and here she is perfect as a brittle young go-getter who isn’t quite as knowing and self-assured as she would like everyone to believe. Likewise Yael Stone as Sophie, the daughter caught up in her parent’s drama. Her depiction of a confused young woman coping as best she can is quite touching. Hughes and Zappa send sparks flying in their encounters. Hughes’ delivery of the more devastating one-liners is the highlight of the show. There’s very little action in Honour, but Lewis works around this, keeping the cast circling each other warily around a sparse set that is part cage, part minimalist living room. The way the actors rarely come near each other, and the awkwardness of most physical contact when it does occur, makes up for the bluntness of the dialogue. Despite the highlights, I left feeling a little unsatisfied. Perhaps with all the controversy that seems to follow Murray-Smith I was expecting something meatier, something to think over and dissect afterwards. But when the characters are articulating every thought that enters their head, there’s not much left to say afterwards.
Bookings: 1300 087 348
Until 29 May 2010

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