Director Lindsay Posner’s production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, farcical comedy of manners arrives in the West End following a very well received run at the Theatre Royal, Bath last summer.
Leading the cast is Felicity Kendal, reprising her role from the Bath production. She stars as former actress Judith, matriarch of the bohemian and outrageously self-centered Bliss family. And in as much as Kendall dominates her husband, children and anyone caught in her orbit as Judith, she also dominates the play its self, which while being very enjoyable, does lack a bit of fizz whenever she isn’t on stage.
Such is the selfishness of this bunch (Judith, her author husband David, played by Simon Shepherd, and her twenty-something son and daughter, played by Alice Orr-Ewing and Edward Franklin) they have all invited a guest down to their country house for the weekend without informing the other members of the family. Add to this the fact that each guest has been lured there in the hope of romantic intrigue and you have all the ingredients for the weekend country house party from hell. The hapless guests become victims caught at the centre of this maelstrom of clashing egos. One scene where the family loses patience with the guests’ failure to grasp the rules of after dinner games is particularly funny.
Felicity Kendall gives a comic tour-de-force as Judith, a fading star who, now starved of an audience, inflicts her melodrama and histrionics on those around her. Her comic timing is impeccable and she plays Coward’s deliberately over the top dialogue to the hilt. Coward was the master wordsmith, of course, and while Hay Fever might not contain as many memorable lines as say a classic like Private Lives, there is still much here that is perfectly delicious. Incredibly, he wrote the play in just three days and did virtually no re-writes
Fine support comes from Alice Orr-Ewing making her stage debut as Sorrel, the Bliss daughter (destined to be just like her mother), Michael Simkins as Sorrel’s harassed guest Richard Greatham and a wonderfully sultry turn by Sara Stewart as Myra Arundel. There isn’t really a weak link among the nine-strong cast, but such is the wonder of Felicity they all rather trail in her wake. A situation that Judith wouldn’t have any other way, of course.
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