Reviewed by Lesley Reed
Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is a comedy of manners and high farce in which the four members of the eccentric and self-obsessed Bliss family host a motley assortment of house guests. They become the family’s victims in a feast of pretence and comic cruelty.
First performed in 1925, Noel Coward described Hay Fever as “one of the most difficult plays to perform that I have encountered”. Blackwood Players are to be congratulated for being brave enough to stage it with a generally inexperienced cast. However, while there are some good moments, the production falls short on several fronts.
Coward’s writing is economical and razor sharp, so pace matters. The pace on the night I saw this production was very slow, especially in terms of entrances and dialogue exchange. The set was disappointing. Consisting of a rundown and clearly uncomfortable two-seater together with other assorted furniture on a bare stage, it did not achieve the relative minimalism director Damien White wanted. Unfortunately it also fell short in suggesting either the privileged life of the Blisses or even the bohemian lifestyle to which they pretended.
Rosie Williams, as daughter Sorel Bliss, was the most successful in portraying the Coward style. Nicole Seal, as mother and West End star, Judith Bliss, was solid, but less shrillness and more predatory sexuality is needed. Ben Todd doesn’t quite hit the mark in the difficult role of the cynical author and father, David Bliss. Mitchell Lowe was clearly nervous in his role as Simon Bliss, but needs to develop more ‘brat’ as the spoiled son.
Amongst the guests, Scott Brokenshire as Richard Greatham and Mikhaila Dignam, as the flapper Jackie Coryton, successfully portrayed the underlying sense of confusion and belittlement experienced by the visitors. Their scene together soon after arrival when the hosts deserted them was delightful. Paul Hutchison, as Sandy Tyrell, drew giggles from the start and Miffy Davis, as Myra Arundel, was suitably sophisticated.
Despite the production’s faults, the experience gained from bravely staging Hay Fever will serve Blackwood Players and its enthusiastic cast and crew well for the future.