Hay Fever

Felicity Kendal in Hay Fever at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Photo: Nobby Clark Felicity Kendal in Hay Fever at the Duke of York's Theatre, London. Photo: Nobby Clark
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It’s a busy week for both Theatre Royal, Bath and director Lindsay Posner. On consecutive nights, Bath is bringing both last summer’s main house production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever to the West End and last October’s Ustinov Studio staging of The Father to the Tricycle. And Posner, who has directed Hay Fever, is also directing the Menier Chocolate Factory’s new production of Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors, with a day between them.

Watching this redundant, mostly lifeless production of Hay Fever, however, I felt that Bath and Posner might have been better leaving it at home.

Certainly the hapless guests that a highly theatrical family, presided over by retired stage star Judith Bliss, invite to spend the weekend at their Cookham house might wish they had stayed at home, too — and so may the audience for this revival. Coward’s alternately brittle and brutal comedy is reduced to a series of posturing attitudes, and any laughs are almost entirely drained out of the play.

Things reach their nadir when a supposedly comic maid (Mossie Smith) fails to get a laugh with a bit of comedic footwork not once, not twice but three times in a row. Talk about a director flogging a dead horse of an idea and leaving his actor floundering.

Meanwhile the big second act scene in which the hosts force their guests to play a game of acting out a series of adverbs which includes ‘winsomely’ turns out to be the clue to Felicity Kendal’s entire performance as Judith, which sees her tugging at her curly blonde wig with infuriating regularity. Myself, I watched it only testily.

There are a couple of saving graces in the supporting performances of Michael Simkins and Sara Stewart as two of the guests, but it’s only a small mercy.

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An old-fashioned star vehicle is drearily revived with little glitter, glamour or charm
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as New York critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005. His columns appear online every Wednesday and Friday.