Honour - National Theatre 2003

What a coup! Marking her UK debut at the National, Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith was fortunate indeed to secure a sparkling quartet of superb British actors to bring her drama to life. Honour is not a play that gains distinction through originality, its considerable appeal lying in the perceptive way which Murray-Smith unravels the complications of human relationships, specifically the ways in which individuals define the key issues of love, loyalty and personal honour.

George (Corin Redgrave) and Honor (Eileen Atkins) have enjoyed a happy marriage of thirty-two years duration. Both writers, her career has been subordinated to his, creating the sort of warm, nurturing family life which their daughter, Sophie(Anna Maxcwell Martin) views as a model of domestic bliss. Into this apparently comfortable cocoon comes Claudia (Catherine McCormack), a bright, sharp-tongued young journalist who's profiling George for a new publication. Like a seductive typhoon she brings devastation in her wake, forcing everyone to re-evaluate their lives.

Yes, the theme of older man's midlife crisis and a marriage suddenly cast adrift is nothing new but in the hands of this outstanding cast, everything somehow seems, if not fresh, then certainly pertinent and utterly engrossing. The most fundamental truths of human relationships bear constant re-appraisal simply because they possess universal relevance and Murray-Smith's dialogue, heard with full impact on a minimalistic set- is so strong that in the right hands- as fortuitously she is here- the play seems razor-sharp.

Redgrave and McCormack are immaculate, each investing their respective character with complete credibility, but it's Atkins' bewildered wife, at first numbed then stirred into action and Maxwell Martin's inarticulate daughter who create the strongest emotional resonance; the latter in particular turning a small role into a masterclass in miniature.

Should love mean the fullest expression of self, unhampered by any concession or does it inevitably demand some compromise? Just when does support turn into self-abnegation? Everyone's definition of what constitutes love and loyalty will be different and anything that throws these questions into the dramatic arena with as much style and substance as this demands to be seen.

(Amanda Hodges)

Notices from the popular press....

MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "The acting is breathtaking...The strength of the play lies in its emotional specifics." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "It’s an intelligent, powerful, gripping piece." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Faintly preposterous play...rather too gross for conviction." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "A really powerful new play....Brilliant production."

External links to full reviews from newspapers

The Guardian
The Times

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