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Genesian Theatre: Hay Fever - Review by Rhonda Hancock

There is no such thing as a “normal” family. Every family is unique, some could even be considered a little odd or peculiar - in the way they communicate (or miscommunicate), their quirky habits, or unusual rituals. Many families contain at least one weird or crazy member, with questionable etiquette and embarrassing mannerisms  – the person everybody avoids at family gatherings.  This is the premise for Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever’ – which takes the concept of family dysfunction to a whole new level. 





The play is set in 1925, at the English country home of the Bliss family (don’t let their name deceive you – they are certainly not a joy to be around). Each of the four family members, unbeknownst to each other, invites a guest to come and stay for the weekend. Things do not go according to plan, and as the weekend progresses, the guests come to realise how undeniably crazy the family are. This comedy of manners (or “bad” manners) contains all the elements of a classic farce – it’s lively, fast-paced, well-directed, has a well-thought-out set, and involves slapstick comedy and outrageous characters. 


The set is an integral ingredient to the plot and has been well designed by (director) Jason Darlington, Gregory George and Peter Curtis. The Art Deco-inspired furnishing creates the immediate impression of a country manor in the 1920s. It gives an insight into the nature of the family that resides there - artistic, pretentious, chaotic and somewhat eccentric. It contains all the necessary physical obstacles and the obligatory five doors (actually 4 doors and a staircase) which provided lots of opportunities for those energetic and well-choreographed entrances and exits, collisions and “near misses”, and vigorous door slamming that are all essential in a good farce. The 1920s vibe was enhanced by the stylish Roaring Twenties costumes, designed by Susan Carveth – with classic evening dresses embellished with sequins and beaded trim. 





Darlington has assembled a capable and dynamic ensemble cast who brought such energy to the production and portrayed their characters with commitment and conviction. Convincing performances were given by Harry Charlesworth as the sarcastic Simon, and Zoe Wilson as the spoilt Sorel – a pair of entitled adult siblings who continually squabbled in an attempt to outdo each other. Elizabeth MacGregor was absolutely hilarious in her portrayal of their melodramatic mother, Judith, a retired actress. Macgregor had the audience in stitches as her histrionics became more exaggerated and she reacted to every scenario as if she were performing in her own private play. Another strong performance was given by Christopher Gale, who played David, the self-absorbed father of the Bliss family. These four actors had great stage chemistry and expertly negotiated the eccentricities of their characters, giving a brilliant insight into the dynamics of this dysfunctional family – who are totally oblivious to their bad-mannered behaviour, and take great pleasure in provoking a dramatic reaction from each other.  

The actors playing the house guests all gave memorable performances in their individual character roles: Yusuf Nayir as the athletic Sandy Tyrell, Karys Kennedy as self-assured Myra Arundel, Simon Pearce as the diplomat Richard Greatham, and Laura Wallace as the not-too-bright flapper Jackie Coryton. All four actors aptly portrayed their initial devotion to their hosts, which quickly became jaded and turned to confusion as the family’s bizarre behaviour escalated. Their comedic timing and great physical comedy added to the sense of desperation and resulted in a riotous and hysterical final scene as they attempted to leave the house unnoticed. Rounding out the cast was Roz Hicks whose amusing portrayal of Clara, the incompetent housekeeper, was highly entertaining. 





Darlington did a superb job bringing this Coward classic to life. The audience enjoyed the witty dialogue, fast-paced action and hilarious characterisations. He and his team are to be congratulated for producing an enjoyable night of theatre. 

I would highly recommend a trip into the Genesian to catch this very funny play.  If you enjoy a good farce (or you’ve ever experienced that uncomfortable silence at a dinner party when you find yourself with a group of very quirky people that you can’t relate to) then you’ll love this show!


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