A round-up of reviews of The Children’s Hour at the Comedy Theatre in London
An all-star cast features in Ian Rickson’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s 1930’s play The Children’s Hour at the Comedy Theatre.
There is critical musing on whether The Children’s Hour is simply not a good enough play, and too much of a melodrama, to be revived and hailed as relevant for our times, but universal praise for Ian Rickson’s accomplished and beautiful production.
See our round ups of the Guardian, Independent, Times, Telegraphy and Daily Mail reviews, below.
“Lillian Hellman's 1934 play may seem a surprising vehicle for these two bankable actors, yet its subject matter has contemporary resonance.... But the big lie at its heart is accepted with an easy credulity that fails to convince, and while thematically the play is an obvious forerunner of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, it lacks the moral force and poetic language of that deeply disturbing study of persecution and hysteria.”
“What astonished theatre-goers eight decades ago now seems tepid.”
“Ian Rickson's assured and at times beautiful production.”
“The most arresting work comes from Bryony Hannah as devious Mary Tilford, the elfin adolescent whose deceit destroys her teachers' reputations.”
“In short, the acting is cogent, and the stars deliver. Yet for all the glamour and hype, it's hard to escape the feeling that this is a very good production of a historically significant but rather flawed play.”
“[Keira Knightley] displays confidence throughout before rising in the final act to dramatic heights that are shattering in their intensity and deeply affecting.”
“the whole of Ian Rickson's atmospheric, slow-burning and ultimately enthralling production proves far more compelling that I expected.Though no masterpiece, The Children's Hour has sturdy dramatic strengths, and one suspects that Arthur Miller must have learnt from it when writing The Crucible.”
“But the strain on the relationship between Knightley's Karen, and her friend and colleague Martha, whose sexuality is tantalisingly open to question throughout the play, is beautifully caught, with Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss giving a fascinatingly conflicted performance that is as subtle as it is strong.”
“This is a powerful night in the West End and Knightley has impressively won her theatrical spurs.”
“Bryony Hannah plays her [Mary] as a restless psychopath whom you wouldn't trust to give the time of day: one wishes her evil intent sprang from a chilling quietude instead of being frantically signalled.”
“Rickson does his level best to overcome the deficiencies in the text. He virtually rewrites the opening scene to suggest the school is filled with incipient sexual hysteria, and even has the girls rehearsing Antony and Cleopatra rather than The Merchant of Venice as in the original. He also shrewdly lays the psychological ground for the conclusion.”
“ the acting throughout is a source of pleasure. Carol Kane turns Martha's aunt, a onetime thesp turned teacher, into a whimsically batty version of Miss Jean Brodie, and Ellen Burstyn as the evil Mary's doting grandmother almost manages to persuade us that she would have swallowed a tissue of lies.”
“In a play of very mixed merit artistically, Moss makes a powerful impression as Martha”
“The one astonishing performance, though, is that given by Bryony Hannah as the pupil... Knightley was nominated for an Olivier for her performance in The Misanthrope. If anyone wins an Olivier for The Children's Hour it will be Ms Hannah.”
“Carol Kane commands all the early laughs as she demonstrates to the children the correct way to clutch Cleopatra’s asp to the breast.”
“Knightley develops some real strength and Moss explodes into a horrified confession that the worst lies are those with “an ounce of truth”. Indeed, the heart of the play lies in those final minutes: the false accusation is the engine of the plot, but its deeper theme is the tricky territory between deep friendship and sexual desire. How far, under pressure, can sexuality can be abjured to keep an equally treasured bond intact? Closeted love is a theme of immense pathos in all eras, and a startling denouement.”