11 April 2009: The Times

Talking To . . . Diana Rigg On Catching Hay Fever On Stage

Iíve long admired NoŽl Coward but alas, Hay Fever is the first play of his Iíve done on stage. What I love about it is that it is an incredibly witty, perspicacious satire on this eccentric, theatrical family, entertaining themselves at the expense of their guests, almost awful to watch at times.

But to me, the glory of the Bliss family is that they accept each otherís follies and idiosyncrasies with a great deal of charity. They have all these flaming rows, but the absolute bedrock of that family is loyalty and love, which is so apt and recognisable, and what prevents the play from feeling callous. I think thatís also true of Coward; his letters reveal an absolutely adorable person ó I so wish Iíd known him.

He had a great slough of despond before Hay Fever was resurrected at the National in that glorious production in 1964, with Edith Evans and Derek Jacobi. Heíd begun to be regarded as rusty, old-fashioned. People still tend to think of him as fluffy, but what I hope comes across with our production is that he has infinitely more substance than that, and was an incredibly influential playwright.

Iím reading Cowardís diaries for his notes on how to play Judith Bliss. As an actress she was more Sarah Bernhardt than Maggie Smith, by which I mean completely over the top. My family is nothing like hers, but, though I canít name names, I have known theatre families that are. Playing one will be an extreme pleasure.

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