first night

The Children's Hour

Marie Gué gives her thoughts on 'The Children's Hour'

The Children’s hour, written by Lillian Helman in 1934, tells the story of Martha Dobie and Karen Wright, headmasters of a girls boarding school, whose relationships and reputations are torn apart by a pupils’ lie. The spread of this rumor ultimately leads to the destruction of the two women’s lives.


Hatfield’s chapel is an interesting choice of space, put to very good use by director Izzie Price. A small, intimate venue is a suitable choice for a psychological drama. With the audience situated almost next to the characters on the stage, it was easy to get completely immersed in the scenes. The setting allowed for the possibility of real empathy. At the start of the show the whispering, fidgeting and chattering schoolgirls gave the piece a really vibrant atmosphere that set the tone for the rest of the show.


The issue with this kind of play is the potential for static drama. As the tension is mostly expressed by what is said. However, The Children’s Hour meets this challenge successfully. The actors are never standing awkwardly while talking, but fill the space with intelligence and precision, fully in touch with their characters.


The excellence of the very well directed cast is what makes this performance. The actors managed to capture the subtleties of Lilian Helman’s text and gave commendable American accents. Izzy Mitchell’s characterization as Martha Dobie was particularly poignant giving a subtle but truthful performance. Georgina Armfield as Karen Wright and Tim Blore as Joseph Cardin equally gave remarkable performances.  Annie Davies’ part was a challenge, as she had to multi-role between the manipulative tendencies of Mary Tilford and her childish character. Despite her dynamism, I feel she didn’t manage to make the audience truly believe in the childish side of Marie Tilford, whose extreme cruelty seems too much controlled and conscious, not childish enough, in Davies’s interpretation.


Supporting roles also deserve high praise. Carrie Gaunt brings a wonderful energy as an old-gossipy-failed actress, Clara Duncan is a very convincing Amelia Tilford and really did justice to the character and Charlotte Thomas was impeccable as Agatha. I was particularly impressed by Claire Forster’s performance. She fully encapsulated Peggy Rogers’s childlike emotions, hesitations and fears. Even though her role was not the most important, I found her performance outstandingly natural and convincing.


Alissa Cooper’s costumes were particularly well chosen. Overall, the attention to detail in terms of the props, set and costumes was outstanding, which enhanced this very polished performance. Even though I’m not usually a fan of naturalistic commitment, it was so well assumed that it was actually very enjoyable to watch.


The initial lightness of the play quickly gives way to a great deal of dramatic tension with a strong climax at the end of the first half brought about by Lydia Feerick’s very convincing childlike despair. I don’t believe that the second half was as compelling as the first, due to a drop in pace. In this regard I felt that the end was weaker than it could have been. Even though Armfield’s acting remained moving until the end, it wasn’t fully able to carry the necessary escalation of emotion that the piece required. Furthermore, the piano piece from Yann Tiersen as an ending seemed quite cliché to me, and actually impeded the possibility of feeling more genuine emotion at the play’s climax.


Despite this The Children’s Hour is a very well directed and well-acted production, which has moments of palpable tension and shows the possible ramifications of a single careless whisper. 

19 June 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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