Members of the company in Hay Fever. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas
The shenanigans of the Bliss family and their guests in a house in the country over a weekend may be impossible to capture or even do them some justice. The Blisses of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever are unconventional, self-consciously rude, colourful and occasionally ridiculous with overdeveloped tendencies towards striking poses and overacting to the point of being caricatures of themselves.
Their four guests are at best victims of the family and are driven to distraction and eventual escape from the outrageous conduct of the Bliss parents and children. That means that any production needs to balance all the above characteristics so that the play remains funny.
The Stratford Festival has mounted a reasonably successful production of the play. There are some strong performances and Director Alisa Palmer does generate quite a good deal of laughter but this is not the production of Hay Fever that you will tell your grandchildren about.
Lucy Peacock plays Judith, an actress of a certain age who is self-conscious about her appearance and desperate for recognition. She invites a boxer named Sandy Tyrrell (Gareth Potter) for a weekend in the country. Peacock has a distinctive voice that she uses to good effect. She can pose, act, overact and flaunt herself around the stage like a prima donna and her Judith is a credible representation of what Coward probably intended.
Her husband David is a somewhat eccentric writer and Kevin Bundy portrays him as a rumpled novelist who fits in the bizarre family.
Much of the preposterous conduct emanates from the children, Sorel (Ruby Joy) and Simon (Tyrone Savage), who try to outdo each other in juvenile pranks and treatment of the guests. They can over overdo it and Joy and Savage do not always strike the right note.
Cynthia Dale plays the over-the-top socialite Myra Arundel with suitable aplomb. Jackie Coryton is supposed to be a “flapper” or a woman who uses sex as a shrimping net. Ijeoma Emesowum appears more like a nice dunce with almost no sexual magnetism.
Sanjay Talwar is stiff and upright as the diplomat Richard Greatham who loses his reserve and kisses Judith on the neck.
The individual performances do not manage to create the chemistry to give us a great production. Some of the lines produced the desired effect, others misfired but the production in its totality failed to produce the mayhem that is inherent in the script.
The set by Designer Douglas Paraschuk is quite splendid. Lots of paintings on the walls, comfortable furniture and a large staircase on the right give the impression of unconventional living with money to support it. Palmer has decided that one of the steps on the stairs is defective and most of the characters manage to stumble over it several times. It is a nifty trick but it gets tiresome after a while.
______Hay Fever by Noel Coward continues in repertory until October 11, 2014 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca