by Noel Coward.
Duke of York’s Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4BG To 1 August 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7623.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 May.
Played with grace and absolute ease.
Ah! – Helen Spencer, Athole Stewart, W Graham Browne; where are they now? To which many may respond: who were they then?
They played the Bliss family in the 1925 premiere of Noel Coward’s comedy of bad manners and the artistic temperament, alongside the famous Marie Tempest as Judith Bliss, the once-and-future West End star whose appearance in an audience still provokes paragraphs in the press.
Theatre is Judith’s natural home, as she says without realising that she turns her home into theatre, by enacting a scene from her greatest triumph or dramatising any situation which offers. An over-enthusiastic response from a house-guest leads towards a melodramatic scène à faire; except that the Bliss household’s emotions are as transitory as they are intense.
Reputedly based on Coward’s uncomfortable weekend spent with American actor Laurette Taylor and her family, Hay Fever is domesticated – unlike its household – to Coward’s home turf in the Home Counties; Cookham, Berkshire, where each of the Bliss quartet has invited a guest without telling the others – let alone their servant Clara.
Mossie Smith’s Clara is understandably disgruntled, though unusually delighted at the substantial gratuity the guests give her when they’re just grateful to get away on a rainy Sunday morning. It sends her into an ecstatic rendering of ‘Tea for Two’, a song many modern Claras sing, making it clearly an instant hit – it had first been heard in Britain less than three months before Hay Fever opened.
Lindsay Posner’s revival is built around Felicity Kendal’s Judith. It plays to, and is played with, her strengths – a vocal fluidity that takes on a spot-lit glow as Judith laps-up praise, descending to a gravelly grind when angered, while she sweeps round a stage cluttered with career mementos and decorative flowers, or uses the gallery above and staircase to one side for comic impact.
Posner’s production doesn’t explore the discord a weekend of Bliss creates in the visitors but Sara Stewart stands-up forcefully to Judith, a contrastingly stiff, imposing Myra Arundel, while Michael Simkins’ diplomat caught in moments for which he is ill-trained is a fine comic portrayal.
Judith Bliss: Felicity Kendal.
David Bliss: Simon Shepherd.
Sorel Bliss: Alice Orr-Ewing.
Simon Bliss: Edward Franklin.
Myra Arundel: Sara Stewart.
Richard Greatham: Michael Simkins.
Jackuie Coryton: Celeste Dodwell.
Sandy Tyrrell: Edward Killingbeck.
Clara: Mossie Smith.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Voice coach: Budgie Salam.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Associate director: Tom Attenborough.
Associate designer: Simon Anthony Wells.