Stage review: Hay Fever by Noel Coward

The cast of Hay Fever
The cast of Hay Fever

If you knew a family similar to the Blisses, who Noel Coward created in his 1920s comedy “Hay Fever”, you would steer clear - definitely not take up an invitation to stay with them for the weekend.

The Bliss family, so wonderfully inappropriately named by the author, are the subject of the comedy play which Greenbrook Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society presented at their Lowerhouse base last week. And as soon as it opens you find yourself among the most egotistical set of pompous prats you are ever likely to meet. And they do not get any more likeable as this quirky and amusing story unfolds and their guests soon realise the error of their ways in taking up the invitation and make a hasty exit.

Never having seen this performed on the amateur stage before, it was a pleasant surprise.

This is not fall-about-laughing slapstick, it is a gentle comedy tale of a self-centred family who invite house guests for the weekend, with amusing results. Producer Michael Dawson chose his cast very well. With just nine actors, including himself, every single one was credible and they had obviously put a lot of work into crafting their roles.

The result was a very entertaining evening, allowing the story to meander along at a leisurerly pace, which the good second night audience obviously enjoyed judging by the generous and well deserved ovation.

This has been described as a comedy of manners, but a comedy of bad manners would be more appropriate as it opened with lady of the house, retired actress Judith Bliss and her two children, Simon and Sorel, exchanging what they believe is amusing repartee, while man of the house David Bliss is upstairs working on his latest novel.

Unbeknown to each other they had all invited guests for the weekend, and so the bickering begins.

Julie Cummings was a star for me as she played the retired theatrical star Judith, who is struggling to come to terms with retirement in her Berkshire country seat and dramatically announces that she yearns for a return to the stage. Julie was wonderful as the overacting, vampish, flirtatious drama queen whose young house guest, the athletic Sandy Tyrell played by Michael Parker, soon discovers she has a husband as she proclaims “no he’s not dead, he’s upstairs”. Julie perfected the role with her meticulous mannerisms.

Judith’s children Simon and Sorel who consider themselves wildly artistic and bohemian, were splendidly portrayed by James Seymour and Rebecca Schofield, as spoilt and self indulgent. Their house guests, Myra Arundel, who has been invited by Simon, and correct diplomat Richard Greatham, invited by Sorel, are like fish out of water in this disfunctional household. Excellently played by Tess Atkinson James, Myra has her own hidden agenda for the weekend and it certainly isn’ t because she is in love with her host Simon. Tess was very convincing, while Daniel Bend took on the role of stiff necked diplomat Richard in his own inimitable, amusing style. The king of the wardrobe malfunction, he was very funny.

Producer Michael Dawson played the self-absorbed master of the house David Bliss with aplomb. And I loved Abigail Hargreaves’s portrayal of his nervy, dippy guest Jackie Coryton, who he had invited for the weekend, but had then promptly forgotten and ignored. She was wonderfully over the top. Elaine Morris completed the line-up, playing the small but important role of housemaid Clara very well.

As the weekend begins to unfold the family’s true colours are revealed to their guests.Life with this family is anything but bliss and as their guests make a furtive, hasty exit straight after breakfast the family are blissfully unaware, so embroiled are they in their own bickering.

Well done to a great cast who were almost word perfect, giving the prompt very little to do over the three night run. I also liked the 3D effect set, the flapper style costumes and the atmospheric background music which really set the scene for a journey back to the roaring 20s.

Greenbrook’s excellent summer production has nicely eased the way into the new amateur dramatics season which is just round the corner.