When a schoolgirl’s whisper spreads, it triggers a chain of events with extraordinary consequences. Karen Wright (Keira Knightley) and Martha Dobie (Elisabeth Moss) run a girls’ boarding school in 1930’s New England, where they become entangled in a devastating story of deceit, shame and courage.
Banned in London and several cities across America, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR received its world premiere on Broadway in 1934. Generations on, its potent exploration of a culture of fear remains startlingly relevant.
Fresh from the theatrical triumph of Jerusalem, Ian Rickson directs two internationally acclaimed actresses and a dynamic ensemble in one of the 20th century’s most compelling dramas.
“The play is far from perfect. It’s hard to believe that the grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) would fall so readily for her grandchild’s accusations, and though she is sometimes entertaining, the preposterous old actress who gives elocution lessons at the school doesn’t earn her dramatic keep, despite the sometimes laborious comic endeavours of Carol Kane.”
“There’s only one question to which everyone wants the answer: can Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss cut the mustard? The short answer is that they prove as potent a combination on stage as at the box office. But, for all the excellence of their performances, and Ian Rickson’s ministrations as director, nothing will persuade me that Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play is any more than well-intentioned melodrama.”
“Knightley’s Karen begins as a focused, professional woman, looking elegant in period bob and pencil skirt. Hellman wants us to see how the pupil’s falsehood planted the seeds of mistrust not just in the parents but within its victims. Knightley’s performance is at its best in the difficult scene with her loyal fiancé (Tobias Menzies) when she realises that she will never be sure that he has managed to overcome all doubt and that she is not prepared to marry him on those terms. The actress’s manner here wavers most convincingly between angry touchiness and tearful tenderness as, in passages of poor man’s Ibsen, she released them both to their separate freedoms”
“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.”
The Evening Standard
“Miss Knightley’s role demands raw self-evisceration. That is what a great actress would bring to it. Miss Knightley tries. By God, she tries. She turns in a performance of which many a journeywoman thesp’ would be proud. But is she a real leading lady? Is she a genuine stage star? Not quite.”
The Daily Mail
“Directed with an unsparing, unflinching wash of feeling, beautifully designed by Mark Thompson and with lighting, music and sound (respectively by Neil Austin, Stephen Warbeck and Paul Groothuis) that all make their own seamless atmospheric interventions, this is commercial theatre not just at its most pricey but also best.”
“This remains a gruesomely appropriate play on two counts: as a dissection of a whispering campaign twenty years in advance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, let alone the insidious WikiLeaks brouhaha; and as a prescient commentary on how suburban puritanism and its sidekick, gloating prurience, stick their big noses into relationships between teachers and charges, especially today.”