Hay Fever - reviewPosted on: 17 April 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves
Laurence Green goes in search of comedy but finds only disappointment
It is always a pleasure to welcome a new production of a Noel Coward comedy as one can always be certain of an evening of wit and wisdom, tinged with nostalgia. But Howard Davies’s revival of Coward’s 1925 play hay Fever, appropriately being staged at the Noel Coward Theatre, formerly the Albery, falls well short of expectations.
The action centres on Judith Bliss, a once glittering star of the London stage, now in early retirement, whose is still enjoying life with more than a little high drama. To spice her weekend up, Judith invites a young suitor to join her for a house party in the country. However her novelist husband, and her two eccentric children have had the same idea for themselves and any hope for private flirtation disappears as the family’s guests begin to arrive. Misjudged meetings, secret seductions and scandalous revelations all run riot and the family arguments become so intense that none of them notices when the luckless guests sneak away.
Davies has unwisely decided to play up the comedy for laughs, rather than simply rely on the original text, so that the characters’ behaviour seems forced and over theatrical. The people here may be self-centred and affected but a more naturalistic approach would have paid dividends and, not made us feel as if we were watching actors performing on a stage. However Coward’s humour is indestructible and timeless and there are lines to cherish such as when Judith remarks “Myra Arundel (none of her guests) uses sex as a shrimping net!” or when another guest compliments her: “ I can hardly believe you have a grown-up daughter”, to which Judith replies, “ I was married very young!”
Lindsay Duncan makes a chic and spirited Judith, a fading star who still harbours a keen desire to tread the boards once more, though she can’t obliterate my memories of Penelope Keith, an actress that was perfect for the role. Olivia Colman, who made such a strong impression in the film Tyrannosaurus, here convinces as the snobbish Myra Arundel.
But I’m afraid the male performers seem rather wooden – I feel this is a result of the production rather than the writing.
In short then a disappointing evening in the theatre.
Noel Coward Theatre
Box office: 0844 482 5140
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