Lion Theatre Company’s The Children’s Hour is a naturalistic period drama. At a surface glance, the play seems to only address the social mores of the USA in the 1930s. However, it has acquired a new relevance with this production in the hands of a highly skilled cast.
The Children’s Hour explores the toxicity of rumour as the lives of two small-town teachers spiral out of control following a lie told by one of their pupils. It is a testament to how the consequences of one’s actions, regardless of their initial perceived gravity, can over time burgeon into a chaotic destructive force. It is precisely this contrast between chaos and control which the cast managed to elucidate with a great level of skill.
Annie Davison, as the malicious schoolgirl Mary Tilford, is particularly memorable. The extremity of her actions, coupled with her blatant psychopathic tendencies, leave the audience engrossed with her every movement. Her characterization as an unnaturally impatient child only compliments the idea that no character within the play is able to control her. Georgina Armfield (Karen Wright) also stood out with her consistent gentleness. She is seldom confrontational with her accusers and generally fragile as the problems begin to escalate. As she physically holds herself together, Armfield is fully convincing as a pained woman on the verge of falling apart. The rest of the cast must also be commended for being on par in their skill with these two particular actresses.
The venue unfortunately appeared to be mostly unsuitable for the production. Although the confidential act of whispering a secret is mirrored by the intimacy of Hatfield Chapel, beyond this the venue is exhausted of its usefulness. Although most of the action is positioned comfortably in front of the audience, a considerable portion of it was moved off to the side onto the space of the altar. This was not only difficult to see, but as the actors did not project sufficiently much of the dialogue was lost. Similarly, when the action moved to the narrow space between the rows of audience members they were often faced to one side so that the others lost a crucial portion of their facial expressions. This meant that audience had to make a large effort to become really immersed in the action.
After the pacing and shouting of the first half of the play, the decision to make the second half more static was very fitting. The second half oversees the survivors of the scandal attempting to make the best out of the effects of the storm of controversy. Armfield (Karen Wright) and Izzy Mitchell (Martha Dobie) presented two women who were no longer raving but quietly miserable. It is the lack of movement which allowed the audience to acquire a much-needed focus on the dialogue. Unfortunately, it was also the occasion when the discordant jumble of American accents became most noticeable. The only member of the cast who had a clear grasp on her accent throughout was Carrie Gaunt (Lily Mortar).
There is still much room left for improvement and a few amendments would not go amiss in making this play truly a hit. However, if you’re looking for a heart-wrenching drama with an excellent cast, you can be sure to find it in this production.
Until 19 June at Hatfield Chapel.
Photo: Izzie Price