Hay Fever

This week I added some Noël Coward to my theatre-going CV (courtesy of Official Theatre and SeatPlan), with the return of his early play ‘Hay Fever’ to the West End.

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Following a successful touring run, it has made its home at the Duke of York’s Theatre and stars Felicity Kendal as Judith Bliss, a retired actress. She is joined by Simon Shepherd as her husband (David), Alice Orr-Ewing as her daughter (Sorel) and Edward Franklin as her son (Simon). The basic premise of the play is that of a dysfunctional family and their house guests – portrayed by Sara Stewart (Myra Arundel), Michael Simkins (Richard Greatham), Celeste Dodwell (Jackie Coryton) and Edward Killingback (Sandy Tyrell) – not to mention uncomfortable housekeeper Clara (played by Mossie Smith).

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I… Well, I’m not sure I get Noël Coward. It probably didn’t help that I was extremely tired that night so my concentration wasn’t all that, but in some ways it actually slightly annoyed me, in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on.

It took a while to really get going; the set up of all the separately invited house guests did drag a little, but once they started to arrive things did get a lot more promising. Infinitely helped by Sara Stewart’s commanding presence on the stage! Things just started bubbling up nicely, tensions rising and all that, when the curtain came down for the interval… Such is the way, I suppose!

Felicity Kendal is on sparkling form in this production. I may not have been a big fan of the play itself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate brilliant casting and fantastic acting when I see it! Her particular style lends itself wonderfully to the height of the melodrama that comes to an almighty crescendo by the end of the second act.

That’s something else I wasn’t particularly keen on – the curtain coming down between acts 2 and 3 accompanied by some incidental music. The old-fashioned way, I suppose? I’m obviously far too used to 2-act shows and slick transitions!

Probably my favourite part of the play was the final act (no, not because it meant it was almost over!). I enjoyed the guests and the family splitting into factions, the latter blissfully unaware (couldn’t resist) of their bad manners & the guests’ developing leaving plans!

So, on the whole, I’d say that if you’re a fan of Coward you will enjoy this production. The set & costumes are beautiful, and there are some very strong performances from the assembled cast. It’s booking until 1 August on St Martin’s Lane.

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At least I did get one thing out of seeing the show: I now know what the word ‘winsomely’ means!

Official Theatre: http://www.officialtheatre.com/ or @TheatreOfficial

SeatPlan: http://www.seatplan.com/ (or see my seat review for stalls J19)

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