Hay Fever (Theatre Royal Bath Productions)
QPAC, The Playhouse
October 23 – November 8
“Where is the barometer?”
“It’s in the piano.”
The well-worn but random classic that is “Hay Fever” takes place over a weekend at an English country house of the unconventional, quarrelsome and quite mad Bliss family. The eccentricities and artificial to the point of lunacy behaviour of the family members are soon exposed as when, without consultation, they each invite a guest to spend the weekend. As the weekend unfolds, the result is hijinks and a featherbed of fake emotion.
Although the plot is thin, the show still has the hallmarks of a highly entertaining play, delivered in a digestible three acts by a talented ensemble cast (continuing from its UK run) who all have their scenes and moments of fights and flirtation as their hopes for secret seductions are fragmented and re-configured.
Far from her famous role as BBC’s Barbara Good, Felicity Kendal is both commanding and resplendent as Judith Bliss, a recently retired but still theatrical and overly-dramatic actress, living the good life (see what I did there), deserving of every moment of the rapturous applause sent her way. As the Bliss siblings, Sorel and David, Alice Orr-Ewing and Simon Shepherd are a wonderfully droll in their precocious banter and baiting of each other. And James Corrigan as endearing houseguest Sandy delivers Hugh-Grant-ish hilarity in his ‘rather’ nuanced British bumbling, with facial expressions and physicality of performance almost to the point of farce.
The Bliss world of drinking, dressing for dinner and parlour games instead of conversation is also brought to life by the precise staging of the ostentatiously artsy country home and clever lighting to effectively create various times of day and weather changes.
Like the summer storms that can sometimes worsen its titular ailment, “Hay Fever” is a frenetic burst of charade and comedy of bad manners, blissfully funny (pun intended) in its depiction of this dysfunctional family and all its absurdity. “Hay Fever” is not necessarily Coward’s wittiest work, however in its transformation of triviality into comedy, it has a certain chaos and whimsy of words much like Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and is, as such, a highly entertaining, laugh-out-loud night of light entertainment.
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