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The Children's Hour - Roxy Lane Theatre

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan

 

The Children's Hour is a 3 Act play centring on the power of a lie to unravel lives and how gossip can thrive and cause harm to those being gossiped about. The original play is set in the 1930s in a New England, USA all-girls boarding school but this version currently being staged at Roxy Lane Theatre has reframed the action and placed it in suburban Perth in the modern day.


There are several key roles in this production, not the least of whom are the two central teachers, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. Jackie Oates gave a wonderfully layered performance as Martha throughout the show, really bringing out the audience's emotions in her final moments on stage in Act 3 (there were audible gasps across the matinee audience). Jade Smith does a good job as Karen, especially in her teacher moments in Act 1 and in the confrontation in Act 2, but there are some moments where she feels a little disconnected from her character's deeper emotional hurt.


Craig Lamont also brings a lovely stoicism to Joe, with well-earned breaks into deeper emotions in the confrontation and separation scenes. Both Clare Alason as Amelia Tilford and Catherine Jane as Aunt Lily have wonderful little scene-stealing moments and embrace their characters' idiosyncrasies, giving us justified and layered performances.

Tahlia Verne gives us a very powerful Mary Tilford, the central antagonist, with turn-on-a-dime emotional manipulation that hit close to home. Some moments could have done with a little more genuine emotional connection, but for the most part, it feels well-rounded. You can also feel the enjoyment the younger cast members are having messing around in the classroom in Act 1 as well, with some lovely little moments from each of them. As is often the case with younger performers, a little extra focus on diction and projection would be good at times, but this is something that comes with experience.


The lighting and sound designs were simple but effective. The box set was well designed to be swiftly changed around in the two intervals to give us a clear distinction between the school and the Tilford living room. The school set was slightly the weaker of the two, feeling slightly too much like a living room to believably be a classroom, but the aesthetic was certainly school-adjacent. The costumes again were simple but effective, with some lovely school uniforms and simple modern attire.


Unfortunately, it is this reviewer's opinion that the modernising and reframing of the play did a disservice to the narrative power of the show. The original show focuses on homophobia and the power of small-town gossip over the lives of the two central women. By resetting the events in the modern day, where someone's sexuality has significantly less impact over their job, and there is now legislation to prevent the kind of behaviour we see in the show, we lose the impact of the events in the show. Whilst there was an attempt to modernise the language, it did feel shoehorned in at times, especially when the Perth setting was layered on top.


A lovely classic play with a modern spin, it is worth heading down to Roxy Lane to see the performances alone. Be ready to be frustrated by teenagers, annoyed at oddball relatives and have your heart hurt on behalf of those whose lives get turned upside down.


The Cast of The Children's Hour at Roxy Lane Theatre

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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