Court One, Christchurch

21/02/2009 - 21/03/2009

Production Details

Have you ever loved and lost?

What happens when a safe, middle class, middle aged marriage suddenly stalls? When the opportunity arises for one life to be renewed but at the expense of the happiness and security of others? HONOUR, at The Court Theatre from 21st February is a provocative, witty challenge to our notions of domestic honour, homely decency and our belief that love will prevail.

Joanna Murray-Smith wrote HONOUR in 1995 during a writing programme at Colombia University in New York. She wanted to explore a "woman who is left at the very point in her life when she ought to be reaping the benefits of her sacrifice", and recognised that "a story as familiar as this was only going to work if it dug more complexly beyond the stereotypical version".

Director Yvonne Martin describes HONOUR as "an expertly-balanced and powerful piece of theatre where every character has their reasons for what they do and is, in their own mind, doing the ‘right thing’. There is a complexity and contradiction that elevates them beyond archetypes".

Portraying these individuals are four talented and experienced actors: Jude Gibson (returning to The Court after more than thirty years) David Aston, Amy Straker and Claire Dougan portray wife, husband, daughter and lover. Martin believes that the actors ensure that "the play is not just about one person’s journey, but four multifaceted, flawed and sympathetic individuals."

Set designer Nigel Kerr has created a minimalist space that allows the exchanges between the characters to flow swiftly from one encounter into another, enabling the dialogue and characters of HONOUR to shine. "The simplicity of the set and seamless transitions between scenes means we can maintain the flow between the decision and the consequence; to show that things, once said, cannot be unsaid," says Martin.

"Even with its darker theme of abandonment, HONOUR succeeds where others fail because it is also witty, intelligent and funny," says Martin. "There is laughter behind – and often mixed with – the drama". Murray-Smith asserts that "the humour makes the sorrow much deeper… when the audience laugh, the savagery and depth of the play slips in."

Martin considers the central theme of the play is ably summed up in the title. "The term ‘honour’ is often considered quaint or outdated, yet here we see four people that must wrestle with the nature of duty and choice, impulse and reason, sacrifice and selfishness – in short, who must find their own sense of honour."

HONOUR’s first public appearance was in a reading with Meryl Streep, Sam Waterston and Kyra Sedgwick.

  • Joanna Murray-Smith has written fourteen plays and three novels. BOMBSHELLS was staged at The Forge in 2007 (including a National tour in 2008) and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is earmarked for the 2009/2010 season.
  • Jude Gibson last appeared at The Court in 1978.
  • HONOUR has been produced in more than three dozen countries, including productions on Broadway and at the Royal National Theatre in London.
  • Yvonne Martin is an Associate of The Court (life member of the Court Company) in recognition of prolonged meritorious service to the theatre.

Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Cast: Jude Gibson, David Aston, Amy Straker and Claire Dougan
Production Dates: 21 February – 21 March 2009
Performance times:
6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays).
2pm matinee Saturday 5 July
Adults $42, Senior Citizens $35, Tertiary Students $25, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $33
The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz  

CLAUDIA:  Claire Dougan
SOPHIE:  Amy Straker
HONOR:  Jude Gibson 
GEORGE:  David Aston

Yvonne Martin
Set Design & Construction: Nigel Kerr
Sound design:  Geoff Nunn
Lighting Design:  Brendan Albrey
Costume Design:  Bronwyn Corbet
Properties:  Nicki Evans
Communications:  Jeff Clark
Education:  Emma Brittenden
Production Manager:  Peter McInnes
Head Stage Manager:  Annabel Butler
Stage Manager:  Charlotte Thompson
Operator:  Josh Major 

Clever, penetrating analysis of head v heart drama

Review by Lindsay Clark 22nd Feb 2009

What happens when, without obvious warning, an older man leaves his wife of many years for a younger woman? The situation has been combed over so often in various media and in real life that it could all seem a little threadbare without the vigorous debate played out with conviction and style in this production. For as the four concerned worry away at the implications of a new partnering, wider perspectives than the stuff of romantic comedy and drama come into focus.

What does ‘honour’ really mean when people and circumstances are so constantly changing?  Head comes up with civilised suggestions depending on rational process and good will. Heart delivers blind certainty about oneself. Moreover, beyond the immediate triangle of wife, wavering husband and young lover, the play explores the position of the married couple’s adult daughter.

No wonder interrogation is its prevailing source of energy and impetus. Director Yvonne Martin harnesses it with assurance. Short intense two-hander scenes set up various combinations and capture a sense of helpless escalation to good effect. Sometimes the pairs battle it out, other times they uncover startling insights into selfishness or vulnerability that we could not have anticipated.

It seems to me however, that the analysis is so thorough and wide-ranging that engagement with any one point of view is difficult. In short it is hard to care at that all-important human level. At times, significantly at the beginning (husband) and the end (wife), words fail, sentences cannot be formed, communication becomes another unresolved problem.

The playwright’s vision is an unflinching searchlight, but the suggestions about human motivation it reveals will probably trouble less intrepid folk. All we can say by the end of the play is that things have changed and as a consequence four very articulate people have been forced to think and clarify their ideas about love and thereby, honour.

In an early scene Honor, the lapsed writer wife played robustly by the splendid Jude Gibson, and successful journalist George, neatly delivered by David Aston, pronounce the marriage break up of friends ‘tragic’ and ‘ugly’. In keeping with the pervading irony of the play, their own experience is neither, because their assumptions about love are pretty soon punctured.

The sharp mind and unashamedly predatory motivation of beautiful, young Claudia, who comes into their lives to write a profile of George, is the catalyst. Claire Dougan has an aloof quality on stage which serves her well in this role. Her incisive manner lends the character authority as well as allure.  

In the contrasting role of Sophie, the student daughter, Amy Straker convincingly adds the perspective of family, of love based on security and the anger of the child whose parents remove that protective shield.

In sum, the production is a sound rendering of a clever, penetrating analysis from wordy people. For the time being it seems, the head is best at setting out the complexities of love and honour, but in the final moments of the play, it is still Honor’s heart struggling to find expression of her belief about the outcome of events.


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