Quaint Honour review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘an astutely staged revival’
Roger Gellert’s only play, Quaint Honour, received its world premiere in 1958 at the Arts Theatre, where it was able to dodge the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship. It hasn’t been seen since. But although Christian Durham’s modest new staging highlights a few cobwebs, it also reveals it to be a thoroughly well-built play, traditionally structured, flooded with eloquence, and bearing a raft of knotty ethical questions.
It’s set in a nameless all-boys English public school and dives into the covert homoerotic shenanigans of the pupils with gusto and some sparkling, muscular, Latin-infused dialogue.
There’s older students demanding sexual favours from younger ones. There’s barely pubescent boys developing idolising attachments to seniors. There’s outraged prefects and teachers trying to stamp it all out. And, somewhere in the hormonal havoc, there might be a spark of genuine tenderness.
Durham’s production – another commemorative celebration of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act – is straightforward and solid, and adeptly acted by a young cast.
Oliver Gully brings a bulge-eyed fanaticism to homophobic head boy Park, Harley Viveash lends the serial seducer Tully a fervent intellectualism, and Simon Butteriss, as the sole adult Professor Hallowes, veils his prejudice behind an avuncular twinkle.
And although the dusty, dated setting reduces their immediate power, the two conflicting issues interwoven throughout Quaint Honour – institutional homophobia and underage sexual abuse – still bounce off each other compellingly 60 years on. Gellert’s play is old-fashioned – it’s an all-male affair about public schoolboys, after all – but it’s still alive.