Review: Hay Fever

Susan Woolridge as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever at the Lyceum
Susan Woolridge as Judith Bliss in Hay Fever at the Lyceum
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WHEN a breakfast trolley accidently topples, shattering plates and spilling its contents onto the stage, it takes nerves of steel to be the next actor to step from the wings, knowing the scene relies on you helping yourselves to breakfast.

Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street

* * * *

So it was at the Lyceum, when just such a mishap befell the press night of Hay Fever. Step forward Hywel Simons to valiantly save the day.

Taking it in his stride, he created a magical moment of mirth from the situation with an assuredness borne of a consummate understanding of stagecraft.

Accidents aside, this take on Coward’s farcical comedy of manners is no ordinary one.

The drama unfolds amid the deconstructed grandeur of Tom Piper’s skeletal Bliss family home, in which live petulant brother and sister Simon and Sorel, their retired actress mother, Judith, and novelist father, David.

Each, unbeknownst to the others, has invited a guest to stay the night at the rural retreat. Cue an evening of self-made melodrama as the outlandish quartet make play things of their visitors.

Absurdly bohemian, the Bliss family matriarch is a truly grotesque creation and Susan Wooldridge glories in the exaggerated drama afforded by the simplest of situations. She carries the piece with a wickedly funny performance despite a lack of volume.

As the vying siblings, Rosemary Boyle is a likeably sulky Sorel, while Charlie Archer’s heightened Simon is knowingly over the top. Benny Baxter-Young’s steadfast father, played as a dour scot, also works surprisingly well.

Still, it’s not until the arrival of the aforementioned Simons and Katie Barnett, as Richard Greatham and the highly strung Jackie Coryton, that Coward’s stylish wit is wholly realised.

Their opening scene, a faultless collection of hilariously observed silences sprinkled with awkward small talk is brilliantly delivered.

Elsewhere there’s an uneven feel. Casting Scottish veteran Myra McFayden as Clara, the maid, might reinforce the production’s roots but a gallus maid adds little and sits uneasily in the production.

The choice jars almost as much as Nathan Ives-Moiba’s contemporary delivery as Londoner Sandy Tyrell, a would be beau of Judith’s.

Completing the cast, however, Pauline Knowles is on fine form, and a waspish delight as the brutally acerbic Myra Arundel.

An incongruous interlude in which McFayden sings a medley of Coward to cover a scene change is a nice touch.

A raucous Hay Fever then, one in which the playwright’s subtle wit is often sacrificed for belly laughs.

That said, while traditional it may not be, it is certainly a staging not be sneezed at.

See it and laugh.

Run ends 1 April