17 April 2009: The Stage

Hay Fever

This Noel Coward play, very much of its era and yet somehow timeless, has received a new and lively production at Chichester. Hay Fever is much more than a well constructed comedy of manners since there is a real psychological underpinning of all that happens and not a word is wasted.

The eccentric Bliss family, headed by recently retired actress Judith and her remote author husband, includes two equally unusual children. Each has invited a weekend guest. This allows for rows - the guests are largely ignored by their hosts and end up with other family members.

Diana Rigg provides Judith with a splendid character - part actress, part middle aged woman - and in discussion able to take centre stage on every occasion with total self-confidence. Her daughter, Sorel, is a self-willed yet fun character in the hands of Laura Rogers and her intolerant brother is well played by Sam Alexander. Simon Williams as their father, David, shows fine temper and human understanding in equal parts. As the conniving Myra Arundel, Caroline Langrishe is credible and maintains a high quality of independence. The other guests are great support, with Edward Bennett, Guy Henry and Natalie Walter having been invited by Judith, Sorel and David respectively, and Sue Wallace appears as the eccentric maid.

The false emotional excesses of Saturday night are quickly forgotten and the family so wrapped up in their own affairs that they do not notice the guests silently leaving the house.

The production is carefully conceived by Nikolai Foster and beautifully dressed by Fotimi Dimou.

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