The Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes and partner maestro Tom Jobim wrote in their bossa nova standard “Once I Loved”, that “Love is the saddest thing when it falls apart” (“O amor é a coisa mais triste quando se desfaz”). It doesn't matter if these words are repeated in English or in Portuguese: they will always be true. The sadness of a broken heart is universal.
That's why Honour, by Joanna Murray-Smith, has been staged so many times, in so many languages, and in so many countries, including Brazil, since it was written in 1995. This most famous work of a playwright whose name is nowadays a synonym for sell-out, tells us how the love of Honor (Marcelle Schmitz) and Gus (George Shevtsov), both bookish intellectuals in their 60s, goes away when he develops a passion for a woman half his age.
Murray-Smith describes Honour as a “poetic play, that relies very much on the words”. It's great to hear that the playwright herself wasn't too ambitious, because as a member of the audience at the Playhouse Theater to see once again Honour, this time staged by Western Australia's state flagship Black Swan Theater Company, I couldn't stop thinking that, although well written and poetic, the play is nothing more than that old cliché: old man falls in love for young and beautiful girl and leaves smart and faithful wife.
In addition to being a beaten cliché, the play has two young characters, Sophie (Clare Blumer), the couple's daughter, and Claudia (Renée McIntosh), the selfish journalist who seduces Gus, that are too unlikely. It's hard to believe how Claudia, after being a baddie throughout most of the play, is suddenly enlightened, and becomes good. Renée McIntosh tries hard, but neither the text or the shoes and skirt she is wearing help her - sometimes it's hard to concentrate on what she is saying while she taps her high heels on the stage like a model on a runway, especially at the beginning. The same or worst happens with Clare Blumer. Her character is a young and shy woman, the exact opposite of Claudia, but it doesn't make any sense that she has to act the statue, keeping her arms folded on top of her body almost all of the time.
At the end I was hoping that something amazing and inventive would happen, like in Edward Albee's play “The goat”, when the public finds out that the young lover of the unfaithful man was all the time a goat. But, unfortunately for the audience, nothing happened and the play finishes as the old cliché it is.
Although the play has been called “Honour”, it's not just about the pain of its central character, Honor, but also about Gus' hurting. And that's where Black Swan's staging of this popular play shines it's brightest: both Marcelle Schmitz and George Shevtsov do a wonderful job in bringing to life the couple's despair. Hat's off to Director Tom Gutteridge, who knew how to take advantage of their talent. Gutteridge was faithful to Murray-Smith's description of Honour, when in two or three scenes the two actors are splendid in using their voices as instruments, giving birth to a beautiful musical “duetto”.
The set design by Claude Marcos is, like the play itself, a cliché: the bed is on the top of a big book and a few too many books can be seen all over the stage. Just a few books would have been enough to provide the same effect (and it would have been cheaper too). Gutteridge's direction is confident, clear and, confirming what he says about the play, almost musical.
Although Black Swan's version of Honour doesn't bring innovative elements to Contemporary Theater, it is still beautiful and touching to see how human beings can fool themselves about what are honourable ways to be a wife, a husband, a daughter and a lover.
Black Swan Theatre Company presents
by Joanna Murray-Smith
Venue: Playhouse Theatre – 3 Pier Street, Perth
Opening Night: Tues 23rd Oct @ 7.30pm
Season: Wed 24 Oct - Sun 4th Nov
Matinees: Thurs 25th Oct @ 11.00am; Thurs 1st Nov @ 11.00am; Sat 3rd Nov @ 2.15pm; Sun 4th Nov @ 5.00pm
Tickets: $45.00 - $20.00
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au