Following its success at the Theatre Royal Bath, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever has arrived at the Duke Of York’s Theatre for a limited season. Felicity Kendal stuns as Judith Bliss, the eccentric former actress who is incapable of giving up the spotlight, even to her equally self-involved husband and children. Hay Fever follows the Bliss family through an outrageous weekend of entertaining four unsuspecting guests.
It seems that the role of Judith was made for Felicity Kendal, she captures her utterly superficial nature perfectly. It’s no mean feat to take on a character who herself flits between overly dramatic roles, the beautiful rural hostess, the unappreciated mother and the glamourous actress. Kendal glides through it all with Judith’s self-assurance, occasionally giving us a glimpse of the real Judith who can’t quite master the Latin names of her flowers.
The other members of the unbearable Bliss family also give fantastic performances. Simon Shepard is David Bliss, Judith’s husband. Sorel and Simon are the two bickering bohemian Bliss children, played by Alice Orr – Ewing and Edward Franklin. Together as a family, they despair over each other’s extraordinary behaviour yet acting in the exact same way and making their guests incredibly uncomfortable. Michael Simkins is Richard, the “diplomatist” who was completely taken aback by the extreme bad manners and antics of the family. Stealing the show however was Celeste Dodwell as Jackie, the wide – eyed, dippy flapper who could have the audience in stitches in a single look. I never knew a play to have awkward silences quite as artfully crafted as those between Richard and Jackie.
As required by Coward’s play, the entire ensemble were perfectly in tune to their own characters but not to anyone else’s. The dynamic between all the actors was crucial to the play’s comic tone, which was absolutely nailed, particularly between Judith and her young admirer, Sandy played by Edward Killingback. It was clear from the curtain up that this was the work of an excellent director, Lindsay Posner. While it wasn’t directed in a particularly different way, Hay Fever at the Duke Of York's Theatre is a simply wonderful production that captures the spirit of the original play. Despite first being performed 90 years ago, Posner proves that Noel Coward’s words are extremely durable and have just as much relevance today as they did in the 20s!
Providing a stunning setting for the dramatic weekend is the gorgeously crafted set. The Bliss’s rural home in Berkshire was a sight to behold, there really is no detail spared. The house reflects the family’s extravagant and superficial nature, particularly that awful barometer! The ladies don beautiful 20s style frocks and the gentlemen look very dapper in their dinner jackets adding to the opulent vibe.
The entire production is fantastic thanks to the direction, acting and of course the timeless words of the great playwright, Noel Coward. It’s a real treat to watch so be sure to buy your tickets before they sell out!