Theatre: The Children's Hour

The Children's Hour, which has just started previews at the Comedy Theatre is one of those blockbuster dramas with a fantastic cast that you just have to go see. Lillian Hellman's dated 1934 play gets some serious star power here. With Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss in the lead roles, along with Ellen Burstyn, Carol Kane and Tobias Menzies you feel as though you should applaud everyone's entrance just because it is the thing to do.

Despite running at the Comedy Theatre, the play is a drama set in an all-girls boarding school run by Karen and Martha (Knightley and Moss). When an angry student runs away from the school, she tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a... (whispered so you can't hear...) lesbian affair to avoid being sent back to school. Therein lies the drama and questions about why two women are setting up a boarding school in a country town, what is truth and why does Karen keep prolonging her engagement abound.

Of course to make this play interesting it relies on two things. The first is that the shocking secret is actually shocking... And that's... LESBIANISM. The second being the observations about the power of lies. Well nowadays who doesn't have a lesbian teacher in your life, so all we have to propel the drama is how lies destroy people's lives. That's fine but it does not sustain interest in this drama by itself, so it is even more important for the performances to be right.

Alas there appears to be a total absence of any chemistry between the stars. When the final "announcement" is made, the delivery of it and the reaction were so casual and cool you could have  been forgiven for thinking they were talking about what they were having for dinner.

There is also the problem with such a star-studded cast that it all seems to be a little too plodding. Scene chewing gets in the way frequently. Hopefully the pacing of this show will improve as the run continues and the actors are given a prod to move things along. There's enough exposition here as it is without the performances grinding the show to a halt.

There is potential here, particularly if some chemistry develops between the characters and the stars act more like an ensemble before press night. Still, Moss and Knightley are so beautiful and this cast of stars so... starry(?) I suspect everyone will be too distracted to care that much... While seats are going to be hard to come by, day seats are available at the box office for £15 if you are quick and / or persistent... Strap yourself in and go along for the ride... But have a coffee first.

First impressions on the 'boo are below...

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