One critic commented that Keira Knightly's performance in The Misanthrope last Spring was entirely satisfactory. He continued to suggest that it was satisfactory... but lacking. It was neither relaxed nor comfortable, and in hindsight, I couldn't agree more.
At the time I pinned the disappointment I felt at the end of the play on the writing - I found it slow, even dull. Now I wonder if I also felt unsatisfied because I'd spent the entire evening holding my breath. As a fan of Knightly, I was hoping for the entirety of the production that she would get through it without making a mistake.
In her return to the Comedy Theatre, Knightly plays a school mistress in New England in the 1930s. Accused by one of her pupils of having an indecent, lesbian affair with another teacher, her character sees her life change instantly before her eyes. In the final Acts, the audience watches as the play transforms from one of dramatic entertainment to a heartbreaking tragedy; and Knightly's portrayal of despair is truly harrowing.
In this production Knightly appeared more confident and controlled than before. She conquered the American accent and presented an enduring image of true friendship between herself and co-star Elisabeth Moss.
Moss' performance was subtle but undoubtedly strong. Her character an intriguing and difficult to understand woman.
Bryony Hannah impressively portrays the cruel, difficult and rumour-hungry Mary. Hannah, undoubtedly has an intense presence onstage - ensuring all eyes were on her. She successfully shocked and appalled the audience with the lies her character tells. Some critics suggest she overacts, this is possibly true. But this is easily forgiven considering her age and potential for the future - I think we will be seeing more of Miss Hannah.
As for the play itself: despite being 80 years old, the story was still relate-able to the modern audience and as fiery as if it had been written today. It might be slow-burning, and melo-dramatic at times, but this is still one incredibly powerful production.
I, and my friend, left the theatre buzzing; and could not help but return to the topic of the play repeatedly for the entire weekend.