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Previewed 22 January 2011, Opened 9 February 2011, Closed 7 May 2011 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London
A major revival of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour in London starring Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss.
When a schoolgirl's whisper spreads, it triggers a chain of events with extraordinary consequences. Karen Wright and Martha Dobie run a girls' boarding school in 1930s New England, where they become entangled in a devastating story of deceit, shame and courage. Generations on from the play's premiere in 1934, its potent exploration of a culture of fear remains startlingly relevant.
The Children's Hour is based on the true story of two teachers, Miss Marianne Woods and Miss Jane Pirie, who opened a girls school in Drumsheugh Gardens in Edinburgh in 1809. Two years later a pupil told her grandmother that the two female teachers showed "inordinate affection" for each other and the gossip started, leading to the mother's removing their daughter's from the school.
The cast for The Children's Hour in London features Keira Knightley as 'Karen Wright' and Elisabeth Moss as 'Martha Dobie' with Ellen Burstyn as 'Mrs Tilford', Carol Kane as 'Mrs Lily Mortar', Tobias Menzies as 'Dr Joseph Cardin' and Bryony Hannah as 'Mary Tilford'. It is directed by Ian Rickson with designs by Mark Thompson. Keira Knightley is best known for her extensive film credits include the award-winning Atonement, The Duchess, Pride And Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Bend It Like Beckham. Her stage credits include The Misanthrope at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2009.
The Children's Hour, initially banned in several cities across America and London, received its world premiere on Broadway in 1934 at the Maxine Elliott's Theatre (now demolished) where it enjoyed a 20 month run. In London the play was banned by the Lord Chamberlain and so it was presented 'privately' under club conditions at the small Gate Theatre in Villiers Street, Strand, for a short season in November 1936. The play was released as a film under the title The Loudest Whisper in 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner. The Children's Hour was most recently seen in London on stage at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in September 1994 when it enjoyed a four month season in repetory.
"Keira Knightley is well-cast as Karen... initially rather stilted, Knightley gets better as the play gives her more to do. Elisabeth Moss, also wooden at the start, steadily develops Martha's suppressed desire. Director Ian Rickson impressively establishes an atmosphere of seething sexual excitement among the pupils, but he can't smother the play's countless creaks... The first half is slow, lumpy and laboured and though the second half is more intense and even momentarily compelling, it's also over-explained, melodramatic and all-too-predictable... As malicious little Mary, Bryony Hannah swirls around the stage like toxic smoke. She's riveting, but so obviously unstable - and corrupt - no one would have believed her stories... Tobias Menzies, as Karen's supportive fiance, gives the most arresting, layered performance in the play's best scene, when Karen forces him to admit that he too had believed the suspicions. He plumbs unwritten depths while the rest of the cast paddle in the play's shallows." The Mail on Sunday
Keira Knightley was last seen on stage in The Misanthrope at the Comedy Theatre in London in 2009. Her many film credits include Bend It Like Beckham, Love Actually, the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Atonement and The Duchess. Elisabeth Moss is best known for playing the role of 'Peggy Olson' in the award-winning television series Mad Men as well as for the role of 'Zoe Bartlett' in television series The West Wing. She made her Broadway debut in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow in 2008 opposite Raśl Esparza and Jeremy Piven. The Children's Hour marks her London West End debut. Ian Rickson most recently directed the critically-acclaimed production of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance which played to sell-out audiences at both the Royal Court and Apollo Theatres in London's West End.
The Children's Hour in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 22 January 2011, opened on 9 February 2011 and closed on 7 May 2011.