Noël Coward’s Hay Fever is largely considered to be a masterpiece, the height of comedy. Tam Williams’ adaptation of the classic is a satire in name only. This show is incredibly easy viewing, so easy in fact that I felt obliged to try and analyse the text and characters in the hope that there was something intelligent and worthwhile about the show to justify the trip.
Should be relegated to the classroom into the domain of English teachers
We are introduced to the eccentric Bliss family as they quarrel about their guests that each of them indiviudally invited for the weekend without telling the rest of the family. The supposedly idyllic stay in the country turns into a nightmare as their guests are subjected to the family’s theatricalities, games and provocations. This wannabe-Wilde play could be interpreted as a farce, but with William’s direction, there is just one constant level to the entire play and so the ‘over-dramatic’ antics of the Bliss family are taken at face value rather than the supposed comic interludes that they’re supposed to be. The theatrics and quarreling are toned down to the point where it is mildly annoying to see them interact rather than any real feeling of humour or discomfort.
It’s hard to say anything meaningful about the cast, after all, the characters that they play have the potential to be interesting but fall short of any real impression. For example Sorel Bliss’ (Emily Panes) stated desire to be financially independent could be considered a foray into the theme of female financial independence, but its treatment as an off-hand remark that is delivered quickly and with a shriek that contains the same amount of petulance of a child throwing a tantrum, leaves it meaningless, much like the rest of the show. The cast member to gain the most laughs is Joanna Brookes in her role as Clara as she dances along to 1920s music as she clears up the food left on the table after the family and guests. We do have to ask if it’s the best use of the time in the show, when there are such easier and faster ways to clear the stage. It also begs the question if adding such an obvious comical routine not once but twice is just laziness or a self-awareness that the rest of the show is not funny at all. Issy Van Renwick’s Judith seems oddly normal for the actress who is trying to hold on to lost youth/ glory trope. The ham acting and overdramatics aren’t large enough for us to pick up on to the point where it just seems like a bad acting rather than a ‘comic performance’.
Hay Fever is a very easy show to watch. It requires no thought and literally passes you by. Therefore, Williams’ adaptation gives ample reason as to why it should be relegated to the classroom into the domain of English teachers.