Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, Wessex Actors Company on tour
There is nothing a British open-air theatre audience loves more than braving the elements, especially in mid-June, with picnics in hand and suitably attired in fleeces and waterproofs – and an eye on the sky and the BBC weather app.
The weather forecast predicted said rain clouds would clear by 6pm over Weymouth’s Nothe Fort, and clear they did, although nobody made a move to remove their fleeces…
The audience had gathered for Wessex Actors Company’s Hay Fever, Noel Cowards 1920s comic masterpiece.
In 1924, Coward, still in his early twenties had spent a weekend at the house of the actor Laurette Taylor, which inspired him to write the play
in just three days. It went on to premiere in London in 1925, winning high praise from audiences and critics.
The play is set in an English country house, and deals with the Bliss family – four eccentric, self-centred hosts who each invite a guest for the weekend. Judith Bliss a recently retired stage actress, her husband David, a self-absorbed novelist, and their two equally unconventional children, Simon and Sorel. What ensues is a disastrous house party where the hosts treat their guests abominably – taking great delight in
playing games on them.
Directed by Virginia Harrington, she has done a very good job with a popular classic, and the production goes at a pace.
The company has brought together a first rate ensemble with Lotte Fletcher-Jonk delightfully playing Judith Bliss as the retired actress who somehow manages to turn each moment of her life into a theatrical melodrama.
Her offspring, Simon and Sorel, (Sean Beaumont and Harriet Webb) clearly would have benefited from better parenting, although its far too late now having picked up a plethora of outlandish behaviour.
The Bliss family are not particularly well named, given their behaviour – nor are good hosts – and you know ‘trouble’ lies ahead as each guest suffers a barrage of embarrassment – until the hosts drive their guests, unnoticed from the house, while they are engaged in yet another family row…
The cast is fabulous, including Peter Watson, Carole Allen, Lizzi Briscoe, Peter Beebee, Jan Smiles and Nathan Linsdell, who clearly enjoy their outlandish characters – giving just enough fizz, frivolity and comic timing that had the audience laughing.
To find out where Hay Fever is on near you go to www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk
Jane Norman for the Blackmore Vale