Noël Coward's Hay Fever directed by Dominic Hill at The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh brings back to life that carefree world of the inter war years of the 20th century that only the privileged few ever experienced. Written in 1924 and first performed in 1925, Hay Fever is a charming snap-shot of a world that is long gone - a world of no financial worries, country retreats, amusing (to some) party games, and living outside the accepted rules of conventional social behaviour. Strange as this little bubble world may seem to us now, it was a world that Noel Coward lived in within his artistic and social circle.
Our story is fairly simple – the artistically and financially successful couple of actress Judith Bliss (Susan Wooldridge) and novelist David Bliss (Benny Baxter-Young) have brought up their now adult children Sorel Bliss (Rosemary Boyle) and Simon Bliss (Charlie Archer) in a very “free from rules” way, and unknown to each other, they have each invited a “friend” to stay the weekend. Our story is a mixture of high farce and a comedy of manners as our guests - Jackie Coryton (Katie Barnett), Sandy Tyrell (Nathan Ives-Moiba), Myra Arundel (Pauline Knowles) and Richard Greatham (Hywel Simons) find themselves unable to conform to the madness of the Bliss household. Living somehow in the middle of this domestic chaos and holding everything together is Judith’s former theatre dresser and now housekeeper Clara (Myra McFadyen).
This world of the mid 1920s is lovingly brought to life by designer Tom Piper, and the set is skilfully “just enough” there as a room to give you enough visual information – doors, room furnishings, staircase and painted backdrop – to set you solidly at home, but also let you fill in in your mind the blanks…there is no attempt to hide the fact that we are on a theatre stage set here. The main props all have attention to detail and the large couch where much of the action takes place is skilfully lit throughout. Some very nice period costumes too – someone has obviously paid a lot of attention to the detail…which makes it odd that there are a few very obvious costume and prop errors too. Ignoring the minor details though, this all gives our excellent cast a wonderful world to play out their roles in, and as a company, everyone works together onstage getting that light comedy touch just right with perfect timing. Susan Wooldridge as Judith is the very over-dramatic glue that holds all the different threads together and this role seems to have been just made for her talents. Rosemary Boyle as daughter Sorel gets a chance to play so well some classic “mother/daughter” scenes. Sorel has obviously inherited her mother’s flair for the over dramatic. Solid performances from everyone here tonight, but Katie Barnett’s portrayal of the almost terrified Jackie Coryton was one of my favourites. As is so often usual though, the rather cranky housekeeper gets some of the best lines, and Myra McFadyen as Clara makes full use of every opportunity given on stage. Clara has some real surprises tucked away in this show (go and see what I mean).
Noël Coward's Hay Fever is simply a delightful trip out to the theatre which goes by all too quickly.
Review by Tom King