Noel Coward’s play Hay Fever was written in just three days; with much of the material taken from his experience of staying with the loopy Manners family. At the time (1924) great actress and singer Marie Tempest refused the leading role of Judith Bliss. But once Coward wrote a few more plays and revues and became the hottest playwright in the West End, Tempest unsurprisingly changed her mind about taking the part.
Ever since, Hay Fever has been coveted by the most fabulous of older actresses, including Edith Evans and Judi Dench. The Rose Theatre is lucky to have not one but two established actresses taking on the role, Celia Imrie (whom I saw) takes the first half of the run, and Nichola McAuliffe the second.
This comic Coward at his very best. However the play’s success also depends on the chemistry and innuendo created on stage by the cast. Hay Fever is a farce set in an English country house in the 1920s. We are introduced to the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and watch the hysterical consequences as each invites a guest to stay for the weekend.
The Rose Theatre has a contemporary feel with a simple stage that allows it to be transformed for each production. Hay Fever’s set was beautifully ornate with a real attention to detail, similar in fact to Coward’s Waiting for Wings that I saw a few weeks ago.
Celia Imrie commands the stage and seems to relish the experience of being Judith Bliss. Hay Fever’s younger roles are taken on by Georgia Maguire and Joshua McGuire (both recent drama school graduates) playing the two bratty Bliss children, chasing each other around the stage and being deliciously unaware of their conceited selfish behaviour. I enjoyed watching the interaction between mother and children, especially how Judith acts with her younger, more beautiful daughter, flitting between pride and jealousy.
This play is right up my street, I enjoyed it so much I was still laughing in the intervals… I even forgot about my dreadful cold. The Bliss family are utterly dysfunctional, but work in their own way. I think there is something here for everyone to identity with. I certainly thought the mad melodramatic ensemble on stage were really quite similar to my own rowdy, Bohemian family!
Hay fever continues until Saturday 23 October.