Keira Knightley made her West End debut last night to mixed reviews.
Knightley may have been grateful for the moral support offered by a host of celebrity friends after her performance as Jennifer in Moliere’s comedy 'The Misanthrope' received some biting criticism.
The actress, who has starred in movie blockbusters such as 'Atonement' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean', should have been right at home playing an ambitious American film star.
But critics said her lack of stage experience showed at the play’s press night at The Comedy Theatre.
Quentin Letts, in the Daily Mail, described her performance as “on the dull side”.
“Keira Knightley may be one of 21st century cinema’s revered objects, but on stage she proves little better than adequate.
“She has all the charisma of a serviceable goldfish,” he said.
“The character as portrayed by Miss Knightley is little beyond an elegant mannequin.”
Paul Callan wrote in the Daily Express: “Her lack of stage experience is sometimes painfully evident.”
He said she was let down by “an occasionally small voice” and said too much of her acting was “one note”.
“It is rather sad that the heart-wrenchingly beautiful Miss Knightley does not come up to scratch,” he added.
Knightley’s character, Jennifer, catches the eye of a famous British playwright, played by Damian Lewis, with explosive consequences.
Benedict Nightingale, in The Times, said Knightley’s performance failed to explain why Jennifer “can dominate a gathering by more than beauty”.
“Partly the reason is physical. She’s fragile, wispy, so thin you could fit her in an umbrella stand.
“Partly it’s also a lack of the vox the stage needs.
“But it’s also an assurance that more time on stage may bring her,” he said.
Knightley may take some heart from the review by Michael Billington in The Guardian who said: “Since she’s playing a movie star in her 20s, one could say that she is not unduly stretched.
“But Knightley brings to the role fine, sculpted features, palpable intelligence and a nice mix of faux-innocence and flirtiness.
“Even if she doesn’t always know what to do with her hands, she gives a perfectly creditable performance.”
Among the celebrities supporting Knightley from the audience was her actor boyfriend Rupert Friend.
Others lending their support were actors Charles Dance, Jonathan Pryce, Neil Pearson, Emilia Fox and Rosamund Pike.
Tara Fitzgerald, whose many film, stage and television credits include the BBC’s 'Waking The Dead' series, also stars alongside Lewis and Knightley in the play which is transplanted by Martin Crimp from 17th century Paris to modern-day London.
It is directed by Thea Sharrock, who was behind the acclaimed Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths at the Gielgud Theatre and then on Broadway.
Tickets for the star-studded production have already proved so sought-after that extras have been issued.
'The Misanthrope' runs at The Comedy Theatre until March 13 next year.