The initial success of Lillian Hellmans' 1934 play was a landmark event for a number of reasons. That she was a high-profile female playwright in pre-war USA was one reason, but not enough. That she was very vocally left-wing and was subsequently called before the House of Un-American Activities before being blacklisted is another. That this play foreshadowed the entwined cultures of blame and fear that was to engulf post-war USA was yet another, and that this play was a huge smash hit despite centring on a supposed lesbian relationship is yet another. Revived in London's West End at The Comedy Theatre, The Children's Hour evidences its staying power yet again.
Of course it helps audience figures that this particular production stars Keira Knightley and Elizabeth Moss (of both The West Wing and Mad Men) as the two founders and matrons of a 1930s New England all-girls boarding school accused of having a homosexual relationship by a runaway student but that the London stage has been drawing top-level Hollywood stars to tread its boards for roughly a decade now can - and should - be overlooked.
It must be remembered that any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal when this play first premiered and that it was such a success that this rule was simply disregarded. Despite being banned in Boston, Chicago and London, it transferred to Paris where it was acclaimed (even if it was by the French). Numerous adaptations and translations have been made, all to equal successes. That this production reverts to the original work is of no detriment. Get it, if you can, this golden ticket.
The Children's Hour is at The Comedy Theatre, London, from 22 January until 30 April, 2011