LOVE IS A DOING WORD

08/05/2010 at 3:41 pm 2 comments

HONOUR

presented by the Sydney Theatre Company, May 2010

First of all, there’s that title – which screams ‘this is a play about serious issues’, a title which screams ‘trust will be broken’ – regardless of what you know about the play, it’s somehow appallingly obvious from the opening moments where this is going to end up. So obvious in fact you can’t help but see it as a deliberate ploy by the writer to misdirect our attention away from the narrative so she can give a square-jawed lesson in What Is Love? Director Lee Lewis is playing along, with a set so minimal there’s quite literally nothing to look at but a frame around these painful figures swimming through their emotional wet cement; ever-so-clever but somehow managing levels of cluelessness beyond the pale. Self obsession is one thing, but coupled (no pun intended) with this intense lack of self-awareness, it’s no wonder the audience find themselves laughing in the face of the inevitable tragic outcome.

When is realism not realism? All the elements are there in the script, a family unit, an outsider, a plot that even the promotional copy for the play describes as familiar. The performances are hitting a realist note, with mascara-stained tears and intergenerational jousting, and the obligatory difficult confrontations (what else is there to do?) between the various players. There’s zippy one-liners aplenty and oddly, the biggest laughs come with the spiteful comebacks from the eponymous heroine, as she lowers herself to the ultimate level on which this play operates – a battle for the moral high ground. It’s a trend I’ve noticed in contemporary writing where drama and narrative is being substituted for a hypothetical debate around the issue at hand. Once the first act turning point is out of the way, the rest is just people discussing it. I reckon it’s a new genre (maybe not so new after all), because it smells like realism, it sounds like realism, but the stylistic sets and lack of conventional drama betray a philosophical bent by the playwrights to ask us their questions not through action, but through dialogue. (I noticed the same thing in Gethsemane) The players are always talking things through in increasingly witty ripostes. I wanted to shout “Why don’t you just f***ing DO something about it!”

I’m old-school, so it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s not as though audiences aren’t enjoying themselves. The response was overall extremely positive, and although it’s light on things happening in terms of moving the plot forward – the poetry of different perspectives on the nature of love gave for some terrific moments between the cast of four. It’s completely lost on these people that the temperament of love is of such stupidity, for all their poignant phrasing – there are none so blind as those who cannot see. Love is when words fail. To intellectualise it is to miss the point. There is no sense in looking for reason in the midst of a lover’s quarrel or embrace, for if you do manage to find it, you are no longer in the territory in which you began.

Thankfully, where the characters lack any form of self-awareness, the play does not. There’s plenty of in-jokes from the opening moment to the closing – particularly for the writers who consistently fail in their articulation of whatever it is they’re trying to say. Cheeky reminders of the familiarity of this particular scenario, winks and nods so you don’t feel too alienated by the younger-woman-older-man indulgences of the plot. And of course the overarching theme that love is not passive, it’s not the words you say, it’s the things you do, it’s the way you show it. Love is not something you have, it’s something you give. When you try and keep it to yourself, it will wither and die. Without action, love cannot survive. The lack of conventional drama I described before seems to illustrate this perfectly. That being so – I still wouldn’t recommend this for a first date. Or for anyone in a relationship that might be on thin ice. If there’s a central lesson here it’s that communication is the key, but for some, the content might definitely cut too close to the bone.

Honour plays at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until May 29. Featuring William Zappa, Wendy Hughes, Paula Arundell and Yael Stone.

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Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: , , , , , .

I AM NOT A MUSE (some thoughts on performance) PLAYWRIGHTS POSSE UP!!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Waites  |  08/05/2010 at 8:46 pm

    Very well observed – talk counts for nothing in drama – in the absence of action….characters deciding to do something about the circumstances they find themselves in – what about Honor bringing in a hit man to cut off her deadshit husband’s balls…we’re all so nice these days about people treating us like shit – makes for crap drama.

    Reply
  • 2. anvildrops  |  09/05/2010 at 5:30 pm

    or the daughter seeking revenge by manifesting a pseudo lesbian crush on Claudia and then dumping her!

    revenge tragedy is always more satisfying than train-wreck tragedy…

    Reply

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