Hay Fever – Noel Coward Theatre, London
A comedy bordering on farce with a very simple plot – the Bliss family, led by wife and mother Judith (Lindsay Duncan) are highly theatrical, where their every word and action is exaggerated beyond belief, basic conversations and actions become unnecessary performances, not only to their house guests, but to each other.
So when each member of the family invite someone to stay for the weekend the inevitable hilarity and mayhem ensue.
The teenage offspring Sorel and Simon, brilliantly played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Freddie Fox, bounce off each other as only siblings can.
Waller-Bridge’s Sorel was really rather marvellous, alternating between a tomboyish defensive temper and toddler’s playful pout, all the while flouncing around the stage in flowing dresses.
Freddie Fox’s Simon was equally perfect, bouncing across furniture like an excitable feline.
Pretty Amy Morgan was delightful as the overwhelmed flapper Jackie Coryton reduced to tears by those around her.
Jenny Galloway was a comic treasure as Clara, the actress’ dresser turned no nonsense housekeeper.
Olivia Colman was utterly delightful as the outspoken Myra, and looking beautiful in a typical 1920’s black ensemble.
In Hay Fever the female characters are far stronger than the male, who are unfortunately much more of a problem and all rather anonymous.
Jeremy Northam appeared to struggle to make anything interesting out of the bland but debonair diplomatist Richard Greatham.
Kevin R McNally was convincing as Judith’s vain and preoccupied husband David. Although I couldn’t help but feel that he had been painfully underused in this role.
An exception was the brilliant Sam Callis showing excellent comic timing and physicality as the puzzled and slightly bashful Sandy Tyrell, receiving an ovation of his own thanks to skillful management of a pile of cushions and a plate of buttered bread.
The obvious star of the show was without a doubt Lindsay Duncan, exquisite as the Grande Dame Judith Bliss, giving quite a restrained performance in a role which appears to have the potential for some ridiculously exaggerated over-acting.
Designer Bunny Christie excelled herself with a set focused around an artist’s studio, with the same chaos and distracted eccentricity as its inhabitants, showing that the family pay as much attention to the organisation of their own surroundings as they do to the comfort of their guests.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable play, with Coward’s memorable style for observation and understanding of the relationships between classes, with their false emotions, exaggerated theatricals and bohemian bad manners, brilliantly demonstrating the self-sufficient family and illustrating that perhaps their guests are just in a long history of passing victims.
When the strange assortment of guests do eventually escape at the end the audience can’t help but feel relieved for them.
As a matinee performance it was an afternoon of laughter, silliness, and an exceptional performance from Lindsay Duncan. All in all it was sheer bliss.