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Boundary Players - Hay Fever

4th to 8th February 2014.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Hay Fever, written by Noël Coward in 1925, is set in the country house of the Bliss family: parents David and Judith and grown up children Simon and Sorel. David is a novelist, Judith a recently retired actress, and for this eccentrically artistic family, life is a dramatic game in which their weekend guests are the pawns.

Each of the four has invited a friend of the opposite sex to stay the weekend. As the guests arrive, they pair off, with each pair wanting to be on their own. When they finally all join up in the same room for afternoon tea, the conversation doesn’t flow – awkward silences are overlaid with everyone talking at once.

In act two, after dinner, they attempt to play a parlour game designed to embarrass the guests, after which the Blisses swap partners, encouraging the guests to make inappropriate passes. The couples glide smoothly from flirting to arguing to flippancy, leaving the guests confused. The following morning, the guests sneak away, leaving the family arguing. Myra, one of the guests, summed it up with this comment to the Blisses: “You’re artificial to the point of lunacy!”

Weird? Certainly. Implausible? Definitely. But with lots of scope for comedy.

Natalie Edgson played Judith as a spirited, romantic luvvie. A likeable character, and always believable. Jamie Kilpatrick, as Simon, was confident and mischievous, perfectly at home in a 1920s country house. David White was the frustrated novelist David, rather in the shade of his wife’s theatricality. Maryann Mendum played Sorel, perhaps the most normal of the family; her voice needed a bit more volume.

As Myra, Louise Hayling was perfect: a poised and confident upper class vamp. Davina Harris was the shy Jackie, with some great facial expressions and body language. The two male guests were played by Dave Brinsdon and Alan Munday, and Pat Archer had a nice cameo role as the maid Clara.

The Coward style needed for this comedy of manners is quite difficult, and was best achieved by Louise Hayling, Jamie Kilpatrick and Davina Harris. The pace was a little on the slow side, and the comedy – which needed to come from the acting, rather than the words – didn’t quite get there, but Pat Archer’s production gave us an insight into the weird world of the Bliss family.