Felicity Kendal leads the competent cast in this recreation of Noel Coward’s play first produced in 1924.
Hay Fever is a wordy work. A microcosm of 1920’s upper class English society. The setting is a country house weekend where each member of the indescribably self -absorbed Bliss family has invited a guest. Misunderstandings abound. Disaster ensues.
Kendal is fondly regarded by older audiences for the television comedy series The Good Life and Rosemary and Thyme. In the UK she enjoyed a huge theatrical stage career and was quite a media darling. There is no doubt her name will be a box office draw. It is a given when casting shows to tour nationally that a television personality (Australian or imported) is a “must”. In this production, she is excellent as the maddeningly theatrical retired actress, Judith Bliss.
The play itself is not one of Coward’s most sparkling works and the first act is largely one of “setting up” the plot. The audience was not hugely responsive, the laughs were a bit thin on the ground.
The pace picked up perceptibly during Act 2, mainly because there was the introduction of the said guests and they were a disparate lot of characters indeed. An older seductress (Sara Stewart), an adoring young male fan (Sandy Tyrell) of Judith Bliss, a rather staid diplomat (Michael Greatham) and an endearing ingénue (Celeste Dodwell).
All of these actors were more than capable, as they displayed amusing increasing horror at the appalling circumstances in which they found themselves. The Bliss contingent (Edward Franklin, Alice Orr-Ewing and Simon Shepherd) carried on in their usual discordant, overly dramatic manner. The final scene in Act 2 when the guests staged a mass desperate escape was well received and drew warm applause.
My reservations are because of the age of the play and its datedness. It really is a period piece, so is it worthy of an Australian tour of this calibre and expense? London theatre runs largely on tourist ticket sales. I can see its place there. Just.
I suspect Australian audiences may come away slightly puzzled and I hope not too disappointed.
Kay & McLean Productions and Theatre Royal Bath present
by Noel Coward
Director Lindsay Posner
Venue: Regal Theatre, Subiaco WA
Dates: 13 – 29 November, 2013.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, 3 – 7 December 2014