Two good reasons for a very hot ticket

Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss are the latest famous faces to grace the West End stage

Actors don't read reviews, but Keira Knightley must be haunted by the film critic David Thomson's declaration in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film that she acts like a model even when she's not playing one, as she steels herself for only her second stage appearance this week.

And just to incite other odious cinematic comparisons, she's playing the Audrey Hepburn role (check those doe-eyed, crop-haired, gamine similarities?) in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, opposite the American actress Elisabeth Moss, aka Peggy Olson in Mad Men, who has much more stage experience – although she only made her Broadway debut in 2008, in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow – a ready-made accent, and no nimbus of dissenting critical appreciation.

So, is this the ultimate in celebrity casting, as new Brit film-icon is paired with modishly hot telly-star in controversial lesbian drama?

You might think so, although The Children's Hour, in which there is a whispering campaign that two female teachers are having an affair, is more about the power of slander than sexuality. If it's any good, all cynical reservations will instantly disappear. But if it's a lulu, it will be remembered as the moment Knightley's acting pretensions withered and doubt was cast on the artistic protestations of West End managements.

This, of course, discounts the overriding good sense of casting Knightley in the first place: she's hot, she's young, she has profile. And she has bona fide theatrical genes: her mother, Sharman Macdonald, is a well-regarded Scottish playwright and screenwriter who only set about conceiving her famous daughter, apparently, once she'd achieved her breakthrough hit with her play When I Was a Girl, I Used to Scream and Shout; her dad, Will Knightley, is a splendidly voiced, lugubrious actor who appeared in notable fringe plays in the 1980s.

Los Angeles-born Moss's parents were musicians. And her reputation, unlike Knightley's, which wavers with every movie, is unassailable: first as Zoey Bartlet in The West Wing, and now as Peggy, the watchful, enigmatic copywriter in Mad Men, she is one of the most popular performers on American television; she's less well known in movies, but at the age of 28 (three years older than Knightley), she has plenty of time to make that good.

Knightley also has a new film out – Never Let Me Go, about state-sponsored organ donors – in which she stars alongside her chum Carey Mulligan, who had huge stage success as Nina in Ian Rickson's lauded Royal Court production of Chekhov's The Seagull.

Rickson is Knightley's director of choice on The Children's Hour. Her first stage performance – as the pouting actress Célimène – in Molière's The Misanthrope, was a provisional success in her first move to flaunt stage chops. Her voice was small, her body was thin, but she fitted the role – and the contemporary take on Molière's mildewed media world in Martin Crimp's wittily corrosive translation – to an absolute T.

The Children's Hour is something else. Last seen at the National Theatre in 1994 starring Clare Higgins and Harriet Walter, it is a drama that depends on the protagonists' ability to project complex sexual ambiguities as well as a fierce sense of their own worth, and worthiness, in the face of a slanderous witch-hunt and scare-mongering.

Moss has made pre-opening murmurs about the warmth she's experiencing from preview audiences. And Knightley – who has said that being on stage is like having sex "with an orgasm at the end of it" – is at least to be praised for attempting so difficult and challenging a play.

If we are to have celebrity casting in the West End, in this case it might mean a new, and wider, audience for a play that deserves one, and for actors who have nothing to fear if the public turns out for the oldest, and soundest, reason in the book: they want to see stars they know and like.



'The Children's Hour', Comedy Theatre, London SW1 (0844 871 7622) to 30 April

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk