Review By Mar Godfrey for Dorset Theatre Reviews
Hay Fever by Noel Coward – Wessex Actors Company – Upton Country Park
Sunday 3rd July 2016
A warm, sunny summer evening in a walled garden– the perfect setting for a 1920’s houseparty hosted by the eccentric, self-absorbed and rather unpleasant Bliss family.
The mother, Judith, a retired actress and mother to Simon and Sorel, was excellently portrayed by Lotte Fletcher-Jonk, who captured the character perfectly – very stylish and most of the time deliberately over the top dramatic, yet still able to bring out glimpses of the real human being underneath.
Her husband David, equally eccentric, and like the rest of his family, surrounding himself with drama, was played by Peter Watson. Peter brought out the essence of the character in a more subdued way than Judith and consequently stopped comedy turning into melodrama.
Probably one of the harder characters to interpret, Sorel, their daughter, was played by Harriet Webb. In her first scene I struggled to hear what she was saying but this became less of a problem as the play progressed as Harriet settled into the part and brought out the personality of the ‘bright young thing.’
Sean Beaumont played Simon Bliss loud and clear, very much part of this eccentric family that is ‘artificial to the point of lunacy’ as one of the characters describes it. He nevertheless comes over as moderately less self-centred than the rest of them.
The houseparty was made up of four guests, each invited by one of the family without the knowledge of the others.
During the weekend, the family dragged each of the hapless guests into their games with panache and cruelty.
Myra Arundel, played by Carol Allen, conveyed a great deal through her wonderful facial expressions and gestures, I particular loved the very 1920’s way she lifted her elbows forward when covering her ears. All credit to the wardrobe department – Myra’s costumes shone from the lapels of her gorgeous jacket to the satin of her clutch bag and her silver grey blouse, all helping to bring out her lively personality. Of all the cast I felt that Carole most captured the spirit and style of the period.
Sandy Tyrell was a super part for Nathaniel Linsdell and it was a pleasure listening to his rich voice. The expression of shock on his face when Sorel announced that she loved him and he loved her was much appreciated
by the audience and will remain with me for quite a while. Nathaniel’s interpretation of his character was very much enhanced by his paucity of movement. Not for him the dramatic flourishes of the others. Well done, Nathaniel, you played a blinder.
My favourite character was Jackie Croydon, delightfully played by Lizzy Briscoe, who brought out the ingenue, the antithesis of the rest of the characters, with a freshness and simplicity. Again well done to wardrobe for dressing her in
light blue, the only character in the first act not in cream, green or brown. That definitely added to what the director was clearly trying to convey.
The part of Richard Greatham was played by Pete Beebee. We did not really see much of his personality, subsumed as it was by that of the other characters. Jan Smiles played the housekeeper and former dresser to Judith Bliss and made
the part her own.
The set was simple, just a green tent as background, against which the actors stood out very well and was a good choice for a garden setting. I enjoyed the use of colour in the costumes, everything being very ‘natural’ in creams, green and touches of brown. The only contrasts were for the two most down-to-earth characters, the housekeeper and the ingénue.
The actors made good use of the walled garden at Upton Country Park and I particularly liked the way that Judith wandered around the garden with her trug and the use of the centre aisle for entrances and exits. And yes, once the
actors had got past the back row of the audience, they still kept in character! The stage furniture was rather a let down though as it was so modern and not at all what one might have expected in a Cookham village in that time.
My gripe is that there were too many times when I could either not see what was going on or not hear the dialogue, sometimes both at the same time. There is no stage, the actors are level with the audience, so why have them sitting down so much? One particularly bad moment was when something happened (did Richard kiss Judith?) that caused a lot of jumping about and drama, but I could not see what it was so had no idea what was going on.
Another example of this is when Jackie and Richard are talking, Judith and Simon come on and ignore them. Judith is clearly doing something at ground level before they both walk off up the aisle but I have no idea what it was or whether it was important to the story.
The audience rows were very wide and so when actors were talking across the stage to each other there were many times when those on the outside of the rows would have been unable to see or hear. Also there was too much talking
with backs to the audience – not a problem for some of the actors but with those with less powerful voices, no idea what they were saying. During the word game, why have Sorel at the front, facing backwards? She occasionally turned rather awkwardly to the audience to deliver her lines but otherwise very hard to hear what she was saying. Not important to the storyline at that point but still rather unfair on the audience.
Hay Fever is perhaps not one of Coward’s best works, the storyline is rather thin and the dialogue not as clever as him at the top of his game. Nevertheless the director, Virginia Harrington, and her cast made the very best of it and gave us all a very entertaining evening as eavesdroppers on this rather awful family and their unfortunate guests, whose escape was a joy to watch.
Well done, everyone.
Dorset Theatre Reviews.