|Image from childrenshourtheplay.com|
There’s been a lot of conflict about this play in our household. Months ago, my friend, ‘the theatre agent’, found seats on a matinee that fitted our busy calendars. We decided to treat our daughters to it, thinking that our husbands wouldn’t be interested in a play about a girls’ school in New England. This was well before I knew that the subject matter was largely lesbianism, which in this case would be acted out by Keira Knightley and Peggy from Mad Men (sorry I know her real name is Elisabeth Moss but for me she’s forever locked in her excellent TV character). It was also well before all the hype created in the press about the play.
Husband wasn’t impressed ‘What? I have to suffer your bleak Ibsens and Strindbergs and then when there’s Keira in a hot steamy sex scene with Peggy I’m not invited?’
After seeing the play I could, with relief, report back to him that there wasn’t even a whiff of a girl-on-girl action. Sadly, I thought the whole performance boring.
The set-up with the young students (girls in far too realistically unflattering and uncomfortable-looking potato sack uniforms) went on for far too long. This first scene was only rescued by the scatter-brained, mildly drunk Lily Mortar (aunt of Martha played by Carol Kane), a teacher who in her previous life had been a stage actress. She spent her time swigging from her hip-flask and instructing the flock of highly excitable teenage girls on what was ladylike and what wasn’t. This scene was the only entertaining part of the play.
I also felt the widely celebrated performance of Bryony Hannah as the obnoxious 14-year-old girl Mary Tilford who, with her lying and blackmailing, causes the school to close down thereby destroying both the lives of Keira Knightely and Elisabeth Moss’ characters, was false. Her hand wringing, teenage outbursts and jerky movements are highly unbelievable.
When Keira Knightley makes her long-awaited first entrance to the stage, I got a strong sense that the audience was supposed to clap, such was the power of her celebrity. Not in a million years did I ever feel that she actually was a wronged teacher in a girls school, nor did I believe in her relationship with the local doctor, Joseph Cardin, played by Tobias Menzies. The thin blouse she wore without a bra (we saw too much of her two pointy female bits – a pay-back to the few male members of the audience?) did little to convince us of any head-mistressy dowdiness.
Elisabeth Moss was more convincing, although in the last pivotal scene when she finally comes out with her confession of love for Keira – something which had been so obviously signalled throughout the play I was incredulous that she hadn’t guessed – she too feels the need to overact.
The last scene, where Keira Knightley dramatically opens up the windows to let in sunlight (signalling new hope) was so far from subtly symbolic and so farcical I very nearly laughed out loud.
I know I may sound harsh about this play. It may be that I was just ‘over-theatred’ this week after seeing two other plays in almost so many days. My expectations could also have been too high due to the excellent reviews that The Children’s Hour had received in the press. Or the fact that I kept seeing it as ‘the hot ticket in town’ in every magazine and newspaper in the last two months or so. Or I might be in a bad temper because the cold which I’ve been trying to fend off all week finally broke through last night and this morning I woke up with acute laryngitis. (Nature’s way of shutting me up for a day or two,’ says Husband who’s still bitter about missing ‘the lovely Keira’)
Whatever, I woke up this morning having decided last night to just write a one-line review of this play, ‘The cast all believe their own pr,’ but couldn’t resist having a more of a rant.
So many apologies, I promise now to crawl back to bed and try to make myself better in mood as well as in health for the week ahead. After all, theatre-going is all about the lows as well as the highs. Seeing something you don’t enjoy makes plays that are excellent so much sweeter. That’s the theory, anyway.