While the strength of the cast’s performances make this a compelling play to watch, the audience is still left waiting for something explosive to happen. 

Imogen Stubbs & Henry Goodman in Honour (Tiny Fires, Park Theatre). Photo by Alex Brenner (2)
(c)Alex Brenner.

Having originally premiered at the National Theatre back in 2003, Joanna Murray -Smith’s play is back in London in a more intimate theatre that makes the audience really feel everything that the characters go through – but suggests that it is going to offer something explosive in the climax and then doesn’t.

Honour follows the breakdown of Honour and George’s marriage, as he leaves her to be with Claudia – a young woman who interviewed him for a piece that she was writing. It explores the impact of not only the breakdown of the marriage but also how the marriage stifled Honour from having her own life and ambitions as she constantly supported George through his.

There is no doubting that Murray-Smith has written an intelligent and thought-provoking piece about the importance of having independence even when in a relationship and the reality of growing old with someone, but the number of questions it throws out there is overwhelming – leaving for an unsatisfactory ending.

Paul Robinson’s production really captures the perceptiveness of the writing by bringing together a strong cast to bring the characters effectively to life.  He is helped in this by Liz Cooke’s stripped back and almost clinical set design to keep the audience thoroughly engaged.  But this isn’t quite enough to make for fully satisfying watch – conversations go around in circles, with characters becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to move forward.

There are plenty of clever lines that make the audience sit up and pay attention as both Honour and George confront each other at the changing dynamic of their relationship over the last 32 years. Murray-Smith delivers plenty in terms of emotion and in turn Robinson has managed to draw out this through the performances of the cast. A key moment that highlights this is as Honour heartbreakingly suggests to George “You don’t love me like a wife” to which he responds “I want a different kind of love” – it is a moment that causes absolute stillness in the audience and is a powerful moment in the show.

But it is the cast that really hold everything together. Henry Goodman as the charismatic but ultimately self-absorbed George perfectly captures his desire for excitement and passion as found in the arms of Claudia. He is certainly old fashioned in his views towards women (some of which he says does draw an indignant gasp from the female audience) but Goodman delivers it in such a way that makes it amusing to watch. Katie Brayben as Claudia is sharp and intellectual – looking for validation for her intelligence and desire to be a strong writer in George, the moment in which he praises her looks rather than intellect is a key turning point in their relationship. Brayben is powerful and passionate in this role. Natalie Simpson as Sophie offers a poignant and deeply moving performance as the idea of her parents ‘perfect’ marriage crumbles – her anger directed at both father and mother is striking and makes a strong impact in the show.

But it is Imogen Stubbs who offers the most powerful and emotionally engaging performance as Honour. Her ability to switch between anger and the way in which she begs and pleads for George to stay is mesmerising to watch. She offers a character who despite having her faith in marriage and relationships shaken, has a great resilience and determination.

Overall, despite the strength of the performances and the production itself, there is a sense of disappointment  in the play itself. It leaves you feeling frustrated at the way the characters aren’t able to move forward with their lives properly, making it slightly disappointing to watch.

By Emma Clarendon 

Honour continues to play at the Park Theatre until the 24th November. For more information visit: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/honour

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐