I seem to have been aware of this title for as long as I can remember but, as we sat back to enjoy the Brighton Little Theatre's production I wondered why, for it quickly became clear that I had not seen Hay Fever, either staged or as either of the 2 televised versions. It seems to be one of those plays that has somehow entered the nation's subconcious as a paradigm for a particular theatrical era. The BLT's 1830's building has recently been lovingly redecorated in Art Deco style and this play, "moderne" throughout, seemed perfectly at home there.
The plot of Hay Fever (by Noel Coward) concerns the arty Bliss family living in Cookham. The Bliss family consists of: father David, an author; mother Judith, a retired actress; son Simon and daughter Sorel. Unbeknown to each other they have each invited an acquaintance down for the weekend.
The script was great, really funny, and apart from one little blip, the timing was perfect. Patti Griffiths, who played Judith Bliss, was as delightfully theatrical as the part required and I couldn’t wait for her next speech. The whole cast worked well together as an ensemble but I was particularly struck by the stage craft shown by Emma Sayers playing Simon's invitee Myra.
The comic highspot comes in Act II, Saturday evening, when the assembled Bliss family and guests play a form of charades. Daughter Sorell attempts to guess an adverb by asking each of the others in turn to perform as action in the manner of the adverb. Hilarious. Apart from Judith of course they all fail miserably. The family rows over the breakfast table reminded my companion of some of the more farcical episodes of Will and Grace! It was also fun distinguishing the bits where the family were just being themselves, and the bits where they slipped into re-enacting one of Judith’s theatrical performances. We enjoyed looking at what they were wearing, especially the evening wear in Act II. It is unusual these days for actors to smoke on stage though it obviously fitted the time and milieu. Some of cast did appear ill-at-ease in handling their cigarettes. Sign of the times I suppose. Perhaps they should have used cigarette holders.
The play concludes with the guests surreptiously escaping on Sunday morning leaving the household in uproar. A device that Coward resorted to in different forms in later plays.
Next BLT production: "As You Like It". 4th - 8th August at the Little Theatre: 19th - 22nd August at Lewes Castle.