Hay Fever

Dominic Hill, artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, apparently doesn’t like to constrain any theatrical experience with the blunt instrument of a rising or falling curtain; he clearly prefers both audience and cast to enter the theatre space more or less simultaneously—with things apparently starting only once everyone has turned up. Stylistically, this can work brilliantly well, but his imposition of the approach on Noel Coward 1924 play feels the first of several missteps.

Tom Piper’s set is an undoubted triumph; a solid-looking, albeit skeletal, wooden frame suggesting a country house

Not least because, between the second and third acts of Hay Fever (which translates, in this new co-production between “the Citz” and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, to part way through the second half), Myra McFadyen—playing the much put-upon dresser and housekeeper Clara—emerges from behind a luxuriant dropped curtain in order to sing a medley of period songs. With no previous use of a curtain, however, this frumpy theatricality feels not so much a subtle means of indicating the change in tone for the finale, but simply a conspicuous way of hiding some necessary redressing of the set.

Talking of which, Tom Piper’s set is an undoubted triumph; a solid-looking, albeit skeletal, wooden frame suggesting a country house, that’s dominated by an impressive curved staircase which is just perfect for making grand, theatrical entrances. And there are plenty of those; most, admittedly, made by the matriarch of this ironically named Bliss family, the faded actress Judith. If her sense of the theatrical is fundamentally annoying, it’s at least a characteristic shared by the rest of her family—her novelist husband David, “slapdash” artist son Charlie and self-obsessed (but at least slightly self-aware) daughter Sorel.

This could be dismissed as, essentially, a story of comfortably well-off people with nothing better to do but play games with each other and their unfortunate house-guests. In that sense, the play certainly feel of its time, but it’s at least performed with some real physicality; in particular, Charlie Archer (as Simon) shows no fear when it comes to draping himself over the furniture or around the other actors on stage. And—on press night—there was also some impressive cast improvisation around a misbehaved item of furniture which arguably received the warmest audience reaction of the night.

Yet that’s also rather indicative of a production not yet as funny (or as dramatically interesting) as it could be. There are undoubtedly great moments—one scene between Hywel Simons and Katie Barnet (as diplomat Richard Greatham and the cripplingly shy Jackie Coryton) is a comedy masterclass. Yet, with the exception of Pauline Knowles’ layered performance as the “disliked” Myra Arundel, there’s as yet little about this production that’s particularly memorable—the final curtain notwithstanding. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

“Couldn’t you see that all my flippancy was only a mask, hiding my real emotions – crushing them down desperately!”

Welcome to a village idyll, home to the eccentric Bliss family. Siblings Simon and Sorel are speculating about whether their retired actress mother, Judith, might return to the stage, as their father, David, attempts to write his new novel. This evening they have each invited a guest to stay at their rural retreat. As the party settle down to a post-dinner parlour game, the hapless visitors become playthings in the Bliss’ self-made melodrama.

Revelation, romance, and outright outlandish behaviour set the tone of this 1920s dark comedy. Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh joins with Citizens Theatre to present this riotous farce charting the unconventional antics of a self-dubbed ‘bohemian’ family of four. Award-winning Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre, Dominic Hill takes on this funny and biting exploration of the games people play to avoid confronting the realities of life

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