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Harsh lessons, well told, in The Children's Hour



Perview by Paul Nelson

LILLIAN Hellman is one of my favourite writers. It would not be too bold of me to say that, perhaps, she is one of the best American writers of the Twentieth Century.

Plays, films, books of autobiography and even a musical (Candide) have come from her pen. She was also the long time lover of Dasheill Hammett and the FBI had a file on her. She refused to testify for the Unamerican Activities Committee and inform against her Communist friends, and it appears she herself, though left wing, was never a card-carrying member of the Communist party.

In the Thirties, she wrote The Children's Hour and in a curious way it almost foretells the situation that overheated and downed many of Hollywood's stars and directors in the McCarthy witch hunts of the Fifties. The play has been filmed twice, as These Three in 1936, and The Loudest Whisper in 1961, both directed by William Wyler.

The Children's Hour is about a spoiled brat at a boarding school who can't get her way and accuses two of the teachers of having a lesbian affair. The devastating effect this has on the lives of the two is what the play is about, and the resulting breakdown of the proposed marriage of one of them and their despair is given a riveting production at the Union Theatre.

The Union is actually becoming one of the very best little fringe theatres in London. You are much more likely to find me there than in the West End, and this production is proof of what I am driving at, the production is quite perfect.

It gives scope for some excellent acting and considering the enormous size of the cast, it has given its director a lot of scope for necessary action. It also is an emotionally moving experience for the audience.

There are some ripe and gorgeous performances, starting with Tracy Wiles, as Martha (pictured right), and Anna Brecon, as Karen (above). These two are exceptional in an exceptional cast. They get smashing support from some extremely satisfying performances, Gil Kolirin, Susan Travers who believes everything the girl says until it is too late, and the girl herself Tara Quinn.

I was also found Catherine Millsom, Bonnie Nordling and the cameo from Edward Inglis great additions to the cast.

However, with such a large cast, all uniformly good, the accolade must fall on Danny Ghossain, the director, who has taken the play and given it a careful piece of direction that I am sure Miss Hellman would have applauded.

It's another hit for the Union Theatre.

The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman, Directed by Danny Ghossain, Setting Designed by Gabriella Csanyi Wills, Lighting by Ben Shotton, Publicity KWPR (020 7721 76210) WITH: Anna Brecon (Karen Wright), Lauren Buglioli (Evelyn Munn), Minnie Crowe (Catherine), Martha Dancy (Lois Fisher), Kimberley Godsall (Leslie), Bryony Hannah (Peggy), Emily Hanrahan (Agatha), Edward Inglis (Grocery Boy), Gil Kolirin (Dr Joseph Cardin), Sarah Love (Janet), Catherine Millsom (Helen Burton), Ursula Mohan (Mrs Lily Mortar), Bonnie Nordling (Rosalie Wells), Tara Quinn (Mary Tilford), Susan Travers (Mrs Amelia Tilford), Tracy Wiles (Martha Dobie). Presented by Thirsty Dog Productions at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1. Tickets 020 7261 9876.

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