On at Rosemary Branch Theatre (London)
Until 2nd April 2016
Directed by Chris Davis
Based on real-life events, The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman tells the tale of two teachers at an elite all-girls boarding school shortly after the turn of the 19th century. An impulsive and false accusation from one of the girls sees the two female teachers placed at the heart of a vicious scandal outing them as lovers. In a time where homosexuality is both taboo and illegal* their lives soon career in a downwards spiral and a series of revelations rapidly unfold; what started as little more than a vicious rumour brings some unexpected secrets to light.
Director Chris Davis has performed a ruthless and skilled edit on the script, shortening it to 80 minutes down from over two hours. I’m not familiar with the original text, but it felt well paced. We hurtled through lies, sex scandals, accusations and love triangles, an exhausting one hour twenty, but had the play have been any longer it would have possibly lagged in places.
It’s always a challenge for any company to bring children to stage when played by adults, but the four women Phoebe Chan, Minnie Walker, Isabella Price and Kimberley Marren do a great job of playing the young girls. Chan bringing an authentic girlish voice to the part, Price skilfully manifests the expressions of a seven year old, whilst Walker maintains a wide eyed innocence. Marren is especially well cast as malicious Mary Tilford, her sudden outbursts are intense and mighty, whilst uncomfortable to observe.
Originally banned in London in the 1930s, for containing material relating to homosexuality, the underlying story naturally feels dated, the battles have moved on, but other messages and themes carry through. It’s still enjoyable as a story, and I suppose important to reflect on how far we’ve come in term of LGBT equality both in society and in our theatres. Without giving any spoilers away, a contemporary playwright wouldn’t get away with penning such an ending, it’s a cliche of the time, but certainly brings Hellman’s message home. If you’re looking to spend an evening getting lost in an intense and scandalous story, this is certainly the show for you.
© Amie Taylor 2016