Hay Fever is a glorious depiction of the Bliss family, who each invite a guest to their English country home for the weekend. The events that ensue are at times funny and at times terrifying, revealing the Blisses to be far more outrageous than we imagined.
From the start, we get a sense of what the sister, Sorel, describes as the “abnormality” of the household. During the weekend, guests are ignored, contentious games are played, fights are had and people shout at one another. The Bliss’s obsession with theatricality underpins most of the conflicts; all of them seem to revel in the world of make-believe, and it is never clear what they really think.
Known for his wit, writer Noël Coward peppered the play with rapid-fire dialogue, with characters attacking one another in arguments that range from the inane to graver observations about, for example, the state of Judith and David’s marriage. “David has been a good husband, but he’s wearing a little thin” seems to be one of the only things that Judith says with some truth and yet the melodrama in the lines still seems to add a ring of humour to such dialogue.
Initially flirtatious, but quickly descending into sarcastic mockery, the conversation between David and Myra about David’s novels is a highlight of the play. Generally billed as a comedy, Hay Fever packs in some hilarious scenes, not least Richard’s comical attempts to make conversation with the painfully shy and awkward Jackie.
Dominic Hill’s production at The Lyceum has an excellent cast that works brilliantly together to portray the outlandish family and its hapless guests. Susan Wooldridge is a delightfully eccentric Judith, drowning out all those around her with her theatricality. Charlie Archer carries off the flippancy and nonchalance of brother Simon with ease and Pauline Knowles is an excellent Myra, appearing to be the only one with some control over the histrionics of the household.
The set and costumes are a feast for the eyes. The Bliss’ country home is ornate and its colours are as saturated as the Bliss’ histrionic excesses. During the game, every character is dressed up in glitter and satin, working as a visual reminder to show that the guests are now part of the Bliss’s show as well.
Hay Fever may, like David, wear a little thin because there is only so much over-the-top theatricality that one can appreciate.
However, to say that the play is as superficial as the characters in it would be wrong. It reveals to us the inherent theatricality of life and the indistinct lines between sincerity and performance.
It is performances such as these that show us that Coward’s writing will live on. Riotous, colourful and unflinchingly witty, Hay Fever may throw you some existential questions, with a few good laughs on the way.
Until 1st April
Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic