Writer: Noel Coward
Director: Dominic Hill
Reviewer: Harriet Brace
A touch of Coward comedy is just the ticket as Glasgow prepares to welcome Spring.
With a country house setting, bright young things, talk of open air and silly games, Hay Fever breaths fresh life into a city finally emerging from Winter and follows a Citz season heavy with dark, brooding tales with some timely light relief.
Billed as one of Noel Coward’s most enduring plays, the 1920s-set script follows a long weekend in the life of the eccentric Bliss family – a creative crew composed of passionate former thespian Judith, her narcissistic novelist husband David and their self-indulgent spawn, Sorel and Simon. The soap-opera lifestyle the Blisses self-perpetuate soon spirals out of control when they each invite a guest to stay, unbeknownst to the rest of their bohemian brood, and a series of farcical exchanges ensue.
This latest revival stays satisfyingly true to the Coward script – with all its characteristic clashes in momentum. Rapid, biting dialogue saturated with petulance and childish one-upmanship is interspersed with stultifying social awkwardness, leaving even those most comfortable with silence squirming with glee. Despite the audience almost audibly aching for someone, anyone, to say something, the talented cast keeps up even the most stilted small talk to tremendously funny effect. Only their agonised facial expressions and stellar comic timing give away the depths of their true despair.
Susan Wooldridge is outstanding as melodramatic matriarch Judith. From a saucy swoop across the stage to the well-timed ‘ping’ of a piano key, her every movement suggests a mischievous conspiracy. Benny Baxter-Young as David is delightfully Machiavellian in his initial disdain for his over-excitable relations. Meanwhile, Rosemary Boyle and Charlie Archer play spoilt siblings Sorel and Simon with the perfect pinch of childish exuberance to counter some of their more malicious manoeuvrings.
Citizens veteran Myra McFadyen deserves special mention as sharp-tongued servant Clara, whose common-sense Scots spirit and quick-fire quips towards the play’s otherwise Establishment characters immediately earn her a staunch ally – the entire audience.
With characters who candidly confess that they mean none of what they do, instead, generating their own “little intrigues” to make life more interesting – or perhaps bearable – Tom Piper’s exposed set design is an inspired hint that the world really is a stage and all in it merely players. Where flats would usually shield backstage from audience view, obscuring actors’ entrances and exits, Piper’s vision sees stage left – the entrance to the Blisses’ home – instead left visible and void of the vibrant scenery exhibited elsewhere on stage.
The fluffy nature of Coward’s play means audiences can’t expect any great moments of revelation. But with so much of the production’s comedy reliant on razor sharp cues and tangible changes in emotion – often from admiration to anger and frustration within just a few, fast-paced lines – the actors are on point, keeping the audience engaged in what could easily become too fanciful a tale.
Hay Fever is a pleasant picnic of a production: effervescent with Spring spirit, ideal light-touch entertainment that will elicit many a giggle, and preserves Coward’s refreshing honesty about life, relationships and polite conversation.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed