Reviewed – 30th October 2017
“a delightful piece of skilled writing that oozes pathos”
John Holmstrom was a radio announcer and playwright who used the pseudonym Roger Gellert. It was under this name that he wrote Quaint Honour which looked at homosexuality in an English Public School. Now playing at the Finborough Theatre it is presented for the first time since its world premiere in 1958 and coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which partially decriminalised homosexuality in the UK.
Upon entering the compact theatre we are looking at what we learn to be a Housemaster’s study. In the opening scene Robert Hallowes, a housemaster in his fifties played by Simon Butteriss, is in conversation with Mungo Park a 17 year old Head of House about a forthcoming cricket match. We sense from these early exchanges that Park is a highly regarded and principled student.
Hallowes cuts short the meeting to announce he is doing his ‘set piece’ with Turner and Hamilton two fifteen year old junior students. His ‘set piece’ is an illuminating and often funny talk about the facts of life and the ‘tricky business of growing up’. He explains the physical differences between males and females to the particular embarrassment of the inexperienced Hamilton. The talk is concluded by informing the boys that in the absence of females within the school what may happen is that feelings can develop between boys though they should avoid any contact that may eventually ‘damage’ them.
When the talk is concluded Turner tells Hamilton of his bedroom experiences with some of the seniors. From here we learn more of the activities that are secreted away and it is clear that Turner has a very close sexual relationship with Tully a 17 year old House Prefect.
As the play progresses we learn more of the platonic friendship between Tully and Park who speaks of an unwanted sexual approach at school in his younger days and how keen he is to ensure protection of juniors from a similar experience. Turner challenges Tully to seduce Hamilton and the remainder of the play is about how their relationship develops, whether anyone finds out and if so what the consequences are. It makes for fascinating viewing.
The perfectly cast group of talented young actors are Jack Archer who is utterly convincing as Hamilton – cleverly depicting the character’s changes as the story develops, Jacques Miche who portrays the saucy Turner well and Oliver Gully who is a formidable Park bouncing off Harley Viveash’s stunning Tully. The experienced Simon Butteriss is perfect as the often twitchy Hallowes.
Overall this is a fascinating insight into life in a public school and how relationships alter following changes in circumstances. The cast are superb and each holds the attention of the audience as the direction from Christian Durham powers the play through from beginning to end. This timely revival of Quaint Honour is a delightful piece of skilled writing that oozes pathos, humour and provides an insight into seduction and survival in public school life in the fifties.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Tristan Bell
is at the Finborough Theatre until 21st November