Noël Coward’s Hay Fever first premiered in 1925 at the Ambassadors Theatre, to favourable reviews. The play is silly, comedic, and farcical, set over three acts we follow the Bliss family as they each entertain their guests.

Credit: Andreas Lambis

Michael Holt’s set aptly demonstrates the 1920s, with blueish green walls, bordered with white, and leopard print tablecloth, the entire design is cohesive, with attention to detail applied throughout. The staging is static during the show, every scene takes place in the lounge, and there are no staging changes – which means the show feels like one very long scene. The star of this show is Natalie Titchener’s costumes, consisting largely of lace, satin, and pearls, these perfectly convey what period the show is set within, and highlights the class level of the family and their guests.

Tam Williams’ direction means there is a somewhat casual start to the play as the cast members stroll onstage, taking their positions, which they do almost unnoticed – both times the play begins without the audience silent as they had not realised. A sound to signal the beginning of the show may have meant a stronger start which piqued attention. The play consists of three Acts, but in this production, there is only one interval, and the change from Act 1 to Act 2 is largely unnoticeable.

The performances are uneven, some are overacted with exaggerated facial expressions and mannerisms, whereas others are more mild-mannered, appearing as though they lack energy – highlighted by this contrast in performances. Joanna Brookes provides comedic relief in the role of Clara, the housekeeper, a joy each time she entered the stage, I wish we had seen more of her. Issy Van Randwyck’s interpretation of Judith Bliss felt a milder version of the character than we have seen previously. Judith is meant to be a character filled with eccentricities and splendidly overacted, but unfortunately, here the character is not the star of the show that she ought to be. Comparatively, Nick Waring’s performance is so over the top that his character, David, feels akin to a caricature, almost infantile in his behaviours and mannerisms at times.

Credit: Andreas Lambis

The pacing is variable, not least due to the show’s uneven timing because of the joining of Act 1 and 2, the play runs at 90 minutes before the interval, and 30 minutes after the interval. There are moments in which the pace is sluggish, particularly as we approach the interval. Which is not helped by the fact that the first portion of the show is long and to be frank, not a lot happens within it.

Although Coward’s play contains a few witty lines, is easy to watch, and enjoyable at times, the characters feel underwritten and underdeveloped, lacking complexity and dimensions. It feels as though we only ever see the surface level of the personalities on stage, and there is no deeper meaning to the characters or the plot. This is a play which relies upon its performers to heighten its comedic effects, and unfortunately this production doesn’t deliver the level of humourous moments one would expect from a farce.

I couldn’t help but feel that nothing has been altered here, in many ways we could have seen this version of the play 98 years ago, as there are no attempts to modernise the show, and nothing new has been added – this play has nothing different to say than past iterations. With a thin plot, underdeveloped characters, nothing particularly significant to say about the period or society, and lacking relatability to today, one can’t help but wonder if another revival of the show is necessary.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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