Yes, the world is figuratively a stage on which you stride and curtsy and swirl after relocating to London given that the city feels like the intersection of all cultures. Yet it also brings the world to you on the literal stage, with international cast members portraying all aspects of the universal human condition in London’s rave-reviewed West End.

Last night, the husband and I belatedly celebrated Valentine’s Day with dinner at The Wolseley (next door to the Ritz and a few minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Circus) and a play at the Comedy Theatre, The Children’s Hour. Not that a good show requires recognizable faces from film and television—the talent of so-called “no-namer” stage actors here is astounding—but a big draw of London theatre does include its frequent inclusion of A-list celebrity names in the Playbill.

And The Children’s Hour is no exception. Lillian Hellman’s 1934 stage play surely caused quite a scandalous stir in those days, yet its tensions continue to resonate in even our increasingly tolerant society. My only previous frame of reference for this tale was the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine…talk about two tough acts to follow! But following indeed with an expert intensity of their own are Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss (who, if you don’t recognize by name, portrays Peggy in the series Mad Men). Seated only 5 rows away from the stage, I could see that Knightley is every bit as stunning in person as on film and in the magazines, and the girl can act! I saw her summon those tears on command, and her impassioned lines at the end nearly summoned some of my own, so taken was I by her force. Yet I must say, Moss outshines her for most of the play with her spitfire characterization playing opposite Knightley’s initial, relatively subdued one. Then just when I was so excited to see the two headlining actresses came the twofold celebrity-surprise of Ellen Burstyn (this woman is aging gorgeously!) and Carol Kane (who I have to admit I still primarily associate with her role as Latka’s love-interest on Taxi). And holding her own shockingly well in this company is the until-now unknown Bryony Hannah, who plays the mischievous Mary (“mischievous” being a massive understatement of this character’s darkness).

Powerful performances and a highly-recommended play. The Children’s Hour is playing through May, so if you’re moving to London by then and looking to step out of your London apartment for a night on the town, this is an engaging place to start.

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