The Children’s Hour

The Children’s Hour
By Lillian Hellman. Directed by Robrecht Herfkens. Roxy Lane Theatre, Maylands, WA. May 26-Jun 11, 2023

Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour is considered one of the best American plays of the 1930s. Highly controversial in its time, it tells of two female teachers who face devastating repercussions after one of their students accuses them of being in a lesbian relationship. Based on a real event that happened in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1810, the 1934 play was considered very racy at its release, as in many jurisdictions the mere mention of homosexuality was forbidden on stage.

Roxy Lane Theatre’s production, with the aim of “presenting social and political issues on stage” moves the setting to Perth in the present time, with director Robrecht Herfkens stating that although “same sex relationships may not necessarily be considered scandalous … the damage that bullying can cause…is by no means lessened”. There are problems with the move though, and some references become laboured or so unlikely that audience belief in the text is damaged. Despite a liberal sprinkling of the f word, use of mobile phones and references to social media, we have multiple references to taking baths rather than showers, local references that have questionable geographic sense and characters stating a belief that the shopkeepers at Midland Gate won’t serve them because they are seen to be lesbians (an assertion that makes no sense for many reasons). 

Despite some now questionable lines, the actors work their socks off playing high stakes situations with surprising credibility. Lovely work from Jade Smith and Jackie Oates as teachers Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, convincingly conveying a friendship under extreme strain.

Tahlia Verna makes an impressive debut as Mary Tilford, the ultimate Mean Girl with a penchant for bullying, blackmail, cruelty, and emotional manipulation, skilfully portraying this blossoming psychopath, with a ready smile.

Catherine Jane brings a Rosalind Russell vibe to the role of eccentric former actress, Martha’s Aunt Lily Motar, while Craig Lamont brings gravitas to the character of Dr Joseph Cardin. Clare Alison maps an interesting journey as Mary’s grandmother Amelia Tilford, supported well by Sharon Thomas as her housekeeper Agatha. 

Emily Plange-Korndrfer plays the bullied Rosalie, in a strong theatrical debut with lovely work from fellow schoolgirls Scarlett Gott (Evelyn), Charlotte Redfern (Peggy), Nina Stewart (Catherine), Karishma Velugula (Helen), and Emily Nixon (Lois). Noel Abdul Hanif makes the most of his brief cameo as the Delivery Boy.

A solid set makes a notable second act transition from school common room to suburban lounge room, though it lost some stage dressing detail with its transition back in Act 3. Celeste Lopez and Anna Gervais have costumed the show nicely, and lighting and sound by Fleur Pereira serve the show well.

A show that obviously has seen a lot of hard work and features some strong performances - but unfortunately does not reach its full potential. Worth seeing for its interesting approach, and for what remains of this classic script.

Kimberley Shaw

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