by Noel Coward.
Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 7 November 2011.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 August.
Strong company work in Coward’s comedy of domestic dysfunction.
Regularly revived since he penned it over a weekend in his early twenties, Hay Fever provided one good reason for Noel Coward’s response to criticism that it left him crying all the way to the bank.
Ian Forrest’s Keswick revival rightly refuses to over-egg the pudding, or overplay its hand. As retired star of the West End stage Judith Bliss, reliving her glory and planning a return to the boards, Kate Layden never substitutes external mannerisms for character-led comedy. Everything this Judith does is absolutely sensible – on her grand-scale and in her solipsistic world.
All the Blisses are like this – it’s how they carry on blissfully unaware they’re making life hell for anyone on whom they’re not currently fastening their interest. Their guests are unarmed against such egos, though son Simon’s guest Myra is closest to the family’s sophistication.
The other three are variously at sea in this house, especially when different family members batten onto them. Ben Ingles’ initially confident Sandy finds his physical and mental suavity ruffled by young Sorel’s offstage attentions then his fellow-guest’s attempt to cure his hiccoughs. And diplomat Richard Greatham – a quietly detailed Jack Power – is shocked by a comic version of the entrapment to be seen in Joe Penhall’s Dumb Show in Keswick’s Studio.
The strongest impact comes from the weakest personality, Fiona Drummond’s cheerfully unsophisticated Jackie, brought to the comic edge of terror as a weekend she thought she’d bask in turns to a nightmare making demands she can’t comprehend – her one delighted moment of apparent success instantly crushed.
She’s never more terrified than in the moment Olivia Mace’s daughter of the house turns on her. Nearest to sanity Sorel may be among the Blisses, but Mace suggests she’s also by some way the most cold-blooded.
A few moments don’t work; Forrest experiments with silences in the opening act and dramatic tension sags, but things thereafter hot up – and he ends each of Coward’s three acts with a strong, sometimes doleful, comic image.
Visually immaculate, Martin Johns’ set combines realistic affluence with suggestions of theatricality for this family all-too-happy with themselves.
Simon Bliss: Benjamin Askew.
Jackie Coryton: Fiona Drummond.
Sandy Tyrrell: Ben Ingles.
Judith Bliss: Kate Layden.
Myra Arundel: Polly Lister.
Sorel Bliss: Olivia Mace.
David Bliss: Peter Macqueen.
Clara: Heather Phoenix.
Richard Greatham: Jack Power.
Director: Ian Forrest.
Designer: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Maura Guthrie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.
Assistant director: Mary Papadima.