Imagine you and your best friend spending hours aligning dominoes up to make a new picture for yourselves and suddenly someone comes over and with one whisper causes one of the domino pieces to fall, forcing all of them to be splattered out of shape. And that’s just what The Children’s Hour is about. Except these aren’t small, plastic pieces that are falling instead it’s the lives of Martha Dobie (played by Chloe Culpin) and Karen Wright (played by Katherine Grayson), which are disrupted by that one whisper, or better yet, the one lie created by Mary Tilford (played by Catherine Butler).
Martha Dobie and Karen Wright are two American best friends who over the years have managed to build their own all-girls boarding school which they live and teach at. Set in the 1930’s Martha and Karen run the school with the addition of Karen’s superfluous aunt Lily Mortar (played by Marni Elder). Moving along we see Karen and Martha teach, discipline and help the girls sturdily in the school, which Mortar breaks up with laughable anecdotes from her non-existent famous life as an actress early in her career. Eventually the surly child Mary, after months of weaning herself from firm discipline at the hands of the teachers, manages to run away to her grandmother. From there she begins creating an elaborate lie that Karen and Martha are engaging in a lesbian affair to her grandmother which sets off a spin of events causing havoc on the teachers’ lives.
We see both of the female leads unravel slowly as they’re plagued by deceit and their own neurological weaknesses. It’s a dark and sinister tale in contrast to the school girl atmosphere. The play itself was like exploring a huge web of lies, having to face societal and cultural issues attached with homosexuality in workplaces. This entwined with the different displays of femininity created a thrilling presentation. And Lily Mortar’s and Rosalie’s (played by Nicole Rixon) comedic skills at the helm balanced the performance out.
And then we have Mary Tilford a completely abhorrent child. Assertive, brutish, loud, boisterous and with an uncanny way for theatrics. With no morals, no sense of pity or justice and just a hard-hearted way with life, Mary helps weave this elaborate display of lies and, just like a ready huntress, she pulls the trigger and creates havoc on everyone’s lives. She’s not likeable and throughout the play she elicits the worst anger you could possibly muster up whilst seated in the theatre, but that was the beauty of the play, she was electrifying, villainous down to a tee.
Mostly it was refreshing to see so many female characters that actually drive the action of the play. With consideration to the lack of parts there are for women even now, the play is a rarity in theatre productions. But it’s also a portrayal of the tragic effects a child can have in an adult’s world and how far one little lie can cause someone’s life to literally crumble on the stage.
By Shantok Jetha