It’s the start of Hay Fever season at the Lyceum, where Dominic Hill, director of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, is staging a co-production with the Lyceum company of Noel Coward’s famous 1920s play.
At that timethe play was said to have no plot and no action, a comedy of manners and mannerisms which relies solely on wit and the absurd to render it enjoyable.
Nowadays it is the norm to see plays and television dramas where the workings of a dysfunctional family are laid bare and dissected. Usually there’s lots of swearing, a bit of violence, and much soul-searching angst. In “Hay Fever” Noel Coward gives us a dysfunctional family that doesn’t even have a soul.
The Bliss family are a quartet of awfully nice, awfully proper and totally self-centred narcissists. It’s a weekend in the lives of a family of show-offs. They don’t communicate with one another, they posture, and in their need to posture with an audience, they have all invited a guest for the weekend without informing the other family members. This provokes a massive dilemma – who will have the Japanese room?
Out of such flummery comes some vignettes of superb acting. Susan Wooldridge is a splendid matriarchal Judith Bliss, actress on the wane, desperate for some young male adoration to prop up her fading self. Enter Nathan Ives-Moiba as Sandy Tyrell, supposedly desperately in love with her. Husband David (Benny Baxter-Young) has his own ingenue arrive, a timorous flapper (Katie Barnett) whose exaggerated gaucheness is in complete contrast to those around her.
The young have their own arrivals – a hardbitten Myrtle glossily played by Pauline Knowles is guest of brother Simon, while sister Sorel has bagged a smooth diplomat played by Hywel Simons. He reacted most diplomatically on opening night when a breakfast trolley was accidently knocked over. Never missing a beat, he arrives to coolly retrieve a plate from the floor and fish up some haddock, which produced the loudest and most heartfelt of the night’s laughter.
Tom Piper’s set features a massive staircase centre stage, which comes into its own in the very last scene where the self-obsessed family are left totally unaware of what their guests are up to.
Sumptuous authentic 20s costumes, lots of extravagant posturing, fluting theatrical voices – in stark contrast to all this is Myra McFadyen as the put upon housekeeper. Grittily Scottish, resolutely down- to- earth, the greatest surprise of the evening is when she fills an entre’acte by sweetly crooning some of Coward’s best loved songs. It’s a cheeky move, but one that reminds us squarely that this is a Coward evening, true to his time, beloved of his genre. You don’t do comparisons, just an exquisite tribute.
Royal Lyceum Theatre until April 1st
Citizens Theatre Glasgow from April 5th till April 22nd
(Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic)
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