Where and When
18th – 20th October 2012 @ The Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne
Hay Fever is one of Noel Coward’s most durable comedies, continuing to delight audiences with its astute observations on family relationships and rivalries. The action takes place in the house of the Bliss family over the course of a weekend. Judith Bliss, a retired actress, her writer husband David, and their two grown-up children, Simon and Sorel, have all privately invited guests for the weekend, unbeknownst to anyone else. As the guests arrive, it becomes clear that it is not them who will be the problem, but the family themselves. Although Judith has supposedly retired from the stage, the nightmare weekend becomes her own private play, and her family become the supporting actors. Over the top and theatrical in their actions, the Bliss family delight in winding each other up and provoking a dramatic reaction from each other. As the weekend wears on, each guest pairs off with the wrong person with dramatic effects. Confused and angered by the strange behaviour of the their hosts, the guests all agree that they must leave straight away. Creeping out of the house, they are unnoticed by the Bliss family who are, once again, engaged in a daft, passionate argument about David’s book. Although it is not packed with as many witty one liners as many of Coward’s plays are, Hay Fever provides a shrewd, farcical look at a dysfunctional family oblivious to their ill-mannered behavior.
- Sorel Bliss – Jenn Singleton
- Simon Bliss – Rob Cording
- Clara – Carolyn Hewitt
- Judith Bliss – Penny Pearson
- David Bliss – Jeremy Mills
- Sandy Tyrell – Sam Moulton
- Myra Arundel – Jill Richmond
- Richard Greatham – Tony Parkinson
- Jackie Coryton – Lauren Homer
- Director – Richard Neal
- Set Designers – Colin Pile and Mark Ellen
Chaz Davenport – Scene One
NOEL Coward’s comedy, Hay Fever, is set in an upper middle class home in the 1920’s around a family that, on one level, could be described as dysfunctional, but on another level, one could see them as happy and a group who truly “get” one another and are nicely in tune. Even if, as becomes evident, others really do not get them at all.
We are introduced to the Bliss family in fairly short order. First of all, the grown up children, who really do have quite a good life, though don’t really quite understand their own or other people’s emotions.
Sorel, (a sublime and engaging performance from Jenn Singleton) is the pretty but spoilt socialite daughter, while Simon (a fine Rob Cording) is the son, who really is a touch wet behind the ears for his age. Together, they make a very believable brother and sister combination, with occasional snipes, but an obvious affection for each other, and for their Mother.
Which brings us nicely to Judith. A “retired” actress who, after a year out, is desperate to return to her adoring….. erm….. fan. Penny Pearson delights in this role as she sweeps around the stage, owning the whole room while she is in it.
Along comes Dad. A writer and, at first glance, domineering, stern patriarch, who initially seems to rule the roost. As David Bliss, Jeremy Mills pulls out a strong showing. Occasionally trying a little too hard to give a Coward-esque delivery, but, on the whole, the character really grows throughout the play and becomes very likeable.
Throughout our introductions to the family, Clara, the help and seemingly the only normal member of the household, whips in and out, getting tea and what-not for all. I really enjoyed Carolyn Hewitt’s performance here, some very funny delivery and timing that kept the pace driving along nicely, including a very clever and funny props set and strike in between scenes in the second half.
Now then. This odd family have all invited people over for the weekend, rather inconveniently forgetting to tell anybody else until the last minute, where a few “Oh, darling, how COULD you’s” come into play. Various love interests and some professional interests, but, as we soon find out, nobody has really come to the house to be with who they were supposed to be with, which, while there are no real door on door antics or trouser action, is where a smattering of a farce element to the piece comes in.
So, now come the weekenders. Sam Moulton gives us a feel straight away of the utter poshness of the “Sandy” character, which he plays nicely. Later we meet Myra. Jill Richmond gives a very strong performance with superb movement around the stage. Not one of her cutting snipes is missed and they are delivered superbly.
Lastly, but by no means leastly (that’s not a word…. I know), Richard (A fine Tony Parkinson), a very proper fellow, and Jackie (described by the father as a “Flapper” and played very flappily well by Lauren Homer) turn up. Not together in “that” sense, but together, having shared a cab, to complete the set of protagonists in an evening of pairing off with varying Bliss family members, whether intentional or not, from either side.
Director Richard Neal has done very well with what is not one of Coward’s wittier or stronger plays. And praise most definitely goes to Colin Pile and Mark Ellen for producing an excellent set.
I found the whole evening to be very entertaining and the acting was of a very good standard, though my friend and I were at a loss as to explain why it is called “Hay Fever”. Answers on a postcard, please!!
I do recommend that you pop along to the Tiv and check this show out…. If there are any tickets left, that is. Given the good audience for opening night, I would suggest you book sooner rather than later.
Pat Scott – Stour and Avon Magazine
WHO could have imagined in these 21st century days that a play written and set in the 1920s could be popular enough to fill a theatre with appreciative audiences? Yet that is what happened at the Tivoli Theatre when Wimborne Drama presented Hay Fever by Noel Coward.
With a production of the classic comedy in the West End this year it is clear that wit, style and humour do not date so the choice of this early work by The Master was an inspired one. Director Richard Neal chose the perfect cast for this comedy of appalling manners, plummy accents and eccentric behaviour, set in an era when cigarettes as a fashion accessory were the norm.
What a wonderful characterisation by Penny Pearson as the former star of London shows, Judith Bliss. She invites the attentions of younger men, lives her life with theatrical high drama and in that role Penny is totally convincing.
The spoilt, 19 year old daughter Sorel (beautifully played by Jenn Singleton) and precocious and tiresome son Simon — Rob Cording excels — bicker endlessly while the head of the household would rather not be disturbed. He (Jeremy Mills makes a strong debut for the group as David) has, however, invited a houseguest for the weekend and so have the other family members, with chaos as a result.
Sandy Tyrell, played with brilliant bewilderment by Sam Moulton, is cruelly manipulated by Sorel and Judith while the languid young Richard Greatham (a well-judged role for Tony Parkinson) is awkward and clumsy. As flapper Jackie Coryton, who is insecure and not too bright, Lauren Homer shows great promise in her first part for the group and the outspoken Myra Arundel is captured to perfection by Jill Richmond.
In the cameo role of housekeeper Clara, stalwart of Wimborne Drama Carolyn Hewitt deserves high praise. She not only shows her acting pedigree but takes the dancing plaudits with a spirited Charleston and some lively dusting to music.
Richard Neal is to be congratulated on digging deeply into the complexities of each character, creating the oppressive and explosive atmosphere of the weekend and keeping the action moving at a fast pace. Particular mention must be made of the splendid country house set and attention to details in the props. How wonderful to see brown liquid issue forth from the coffee pot!
Look out for Wimborne Drama in their next production, this talented and versatile group excels whatever genre and challenge is presented to them.