Friday, 8 May 2015

Theatre review: Hay Fever

It was only three years ago - and in his eponymous theatre - that Hay Fever was last on St Martin's Lane, but already Noël Coward's partner-swapping comedy of manners is back. This time it's down the road at the Duke of York's, in a production that comes to London from Bath with most of its original cast, plus Edward Killingback (Yeah!) Them Motherfuckers Don't Know How To Act (Yeah!) as Sandy. It's a June weekend at the country home of the desperately affected Bliss family: David (Simon Shepherd) is a successful novelist whose work keeps them all in luxury, but the alpha personality is his wife Judith (Felicity Kendal,) a retired actress considering returning to the stage because she hasn't had quite enough letters demanding it. Everyone claims to be looking forward to a quiet weekend as they've each invited someone to the house - four new admirers the Blisses can spend the weekend toying and flirting with.

Judith has invited young fan Sandy, David flapper girl Jackie (Celeste Dodwell,) claiming he wants to study her for a character in his next book. Their son Simon (Edward Franklin) is smitten with older woman Myra (Sara Stewart,) daughter Sorrel (Alice Orr-Ewing) has decided to be fascinated by dull diplomat Richard (Michael Simpkins.)

For all their claims to want a quiet time with their own guests, the theatrical family clearly thrive on the drama of a house full of strangers. Soon everyone's paired off with someone else's guest, to their great confusion.

Anyone familiar with productions originating at Theatre Royal Bath will know not to expect anything too radical, and Lindsay Posner's production doesn't buck that trend. But to be honest I was pretty much banking on that: The last West End production attempted to explore the depths in Coward's writing, which proved a problem because for my money he doesn't have any. The cast this time around may look less exciting than 2012's, but by sticking to the clipped superficiality of the Blisses and the script, the result is more successful. I've never been entirely sold on Noël Coward but this Hay Fever certainly scales all the heights of mild amusement he's capable of. Ben, who was new to the writer's work, was really pleased with the show, so it's definitely hitting the mark in many ways.

Hay Fever by Noël Coward is booking until the 1st of August at the Duke of York's Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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