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Theatre review Fearless depiction of the love that dared not speak its name in a time of gay persecution

Quaint Honour
FinboroughTheatre, London

THIS revival of Roger Gellert’s Quaint Honour, after 60 years of obscurity, is inspired because it’s a jewel of a play.

Set in a boys’ boarding school in the 1950s at a time when homosexuality was ruthlessly pursued by the law, it exposes the true extent of sexual activity between the boys and its consequence.

You have to hand it to the writer. Not only must such candid and graphic exposition of the topic in 1958 have taken immense courage and determination, the dialogue is superb and laden with emotional truth.

In a beautifully pitched production by Christian Durham, with an impeccable cast, Harley Viveash is a revelation as the handsome, instinctively empathetic 17-year-old prefect knocked off his pedestal by love.

There are top-class performances too from Jack Archer as his simmering but timid love interest, Simon Butteriss as the kindly but clueless house master, Oliver Gully as the 17-year-old rule enforcer and Jacques Miche as everyone’s cutesy fag-cum-tart.

It’s easy to see this as an early landmark in the history of gay activism and doubtless in 1958 that was its intent, though its theme remains hugely relevant today.

But it’s more than that. Public-school settings have been a perennial favourite with playwrights and this piece evokes the comfortable elite world of a Terence Rattigan or a Julian Mitchell.

Yet what comes across to a modern audience is not only the homosexual element but the folly of private boarding schools, whereby adolescents and young adults are immersed in a kind of prison where rules are paramount and natural emotional development damagingly stifled.

And while the play is rightly concerned with the true state of homosexual activity in a single-sex school, it’s not clear whether all these young men are by nature gay — and will remain so — or simply bound by circumstance.

The real cutting edge of Quaint Honour, though, is its fearless entry into the carnal realities of teenage sexuality — a rarefied world which adults can never quite re-enter, even less pronounce on.

And it tellingly demonstrates the mismatch between institutional hypocrisy and the seething human cauldron where rules give way to overpowering instinct.

Runs until November 21, box office:

Mary Conway


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