Pros: Extraordinary performances coupled with expert direction and design mean that Quaint Honour is undoubtedly a show worth seeing.
Cons: Some scenes are hampered by the sheer volume of dialogue written within them.
The dying strains of I Vow to Thee, My Country play as the audience take their seats for this revival of Roger Gellert’s Quaint Honour, a play first (and last) seen almost 60 years ago. The music feels apt, given the play’s setting; a classic English boarding school during the 1950s. However, this play is anything but traditional – especially in any public school sense of the word. Gellert’s only play examines homosexual relationships at a time when they were still illegal, in a setting where they were relatively commonplace, and this timely revival coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partly decriminalised homosexual acts in the UK.
Following a frank conversation with his housemaster, the Head of House, Park (Oliver Gulley), is ‘on a warpath’, determined to discover if there is truth to the rumours of illicit sexual relationships between boys within the house. Described in the text as ‘a worried muscular Christian’, the practically puritanical Park feels it is a moral duty for him to root out and prevent such relationships (though we later discover that he also holds another, less religious, motivation), and enlists the help of Tully, a House Prefect. Tully, though, is himself having a relationship with one of the younger boys (Turner) and attempting to seduce another (Hamilton).
Despite the six decades which have elapsed since the play’s premiere, Quaint Honour has lost little of its potency. Naturally there are some signs of ageing; its proximity to the Second World War means this subject dominates some scenes, while some of the dialogue is more substantive than what audiences might be used to from more recent writing. That being said, the relationships at its heart are as moving as ever, and fantastically portrayed here by an absolutely stellar cast. Simon Butteriss excels as the humane and understanding housemaster Mr Hallowes, while the four younger members of the cast surely all have glittering careers ahead of them. Each performance is exceptional.
The cast’s nuanced performances match the detail of the set, which perfectly evoke a sense of period and place, from the cricket pads in the corner to Tully’s battered old trunk. Throughout the production, the claustrophobia of a boys’ boarding house – and the lack of privacy they enjoy – is brilliantly realised. The intimate auditorium at the Finborough, meanwhile, casts the audience as voyeurs.
This is a superb revival of a play which, despite its age and the changes in attitude since its first staging in 1958, remains a seriously moving piece.
Author: Roger Gellert
Director: Christian Durham
Producer: Giles Chiplin
Booking Until: 21 November 2017
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/quaint-honour.php