Noel Coward was, and still is known for his fast wit, and for snappy dialogue in his writing, and Hay Fever is one of his most enduring works. But it’s difficult to follow a conversation when the dialogue is too fast.
Unfortunately, that’s what’s taking place on stage right from the start. The actors playing siblings Sorel and Simon Bliss conspire, with the runaway pace of their ‘conversation’ to immediately weaken the whole production.
Hay Fever has a slim plot at best, and from the start, one is straining to fathom what’s taking place, never mind comprehending the dynamics between the two characters. Scarcely is one statement out of an actor’s mouth, than the response comes without a beat. Boom. The next response follows in a flash, and then bang, back. And the response. It’s not hay fever, it’s fever pitch. They simply need to slow down, and pace their dialogue more naturally, because the effect is indeed farcical – but not in the way Noel Coward intended.
Because of this flawed start, all that follows suffers, as it takes some time, and the introduction of a few more characters, for the ping-pong pace of the dialogue to slow to one where Coward’s sly, witty and often insightful one liners can begin to be appreciated, and illuminate the evolving story and characters.
Although this is a light piece, given the Lyceum’s recent bold innovations in staging with the likes of The Suppliant Women and Picnic at Hanging Rock, the set is oddly static and unadventurous. The use of what can only be described as a big picture woven into a carpet as the stage entrance to the unseen garden just looks wrong. It’s as if there was no budget left for a set of french doors, and a painted backdrop beyond them, and the few lighting changes that take place do little to add to period or mood.
It’s disappointing to have to say that this production sounds, looks and feels very flat, and with the exception of a few highlights, such as the incredibly well staged and painfully funny ‘non conversation’ between Richard Greatham and Jackie Coryton, it never really rises above being just pleasantly amusing. The charming, and beautifully lit interlude of Myra McFadyen as housekeeper Clara singing twenties’ songs as a set change takes place in the second act lifts things considerably, and aside from being a nice commentary on the characters in the play, also places the piece far better into the context of its period. But overall, there’s an absence of any real flair and joy that marks out a remarkable production.
There are, however, still moments of great humour, and when there’s an unplanned accident with a tray holding breakfast food being knocked for six, the stoic recovery of the actors who have to eat food which has clearly just been scattered all over the floor was quite brilliant. This was greatly appreciated by an audience which had by then warmed far more to the humour of the play – and it’s always easier to please an audience after the interval. But when the most memorable highlight of an evening at the theatre is the actors’ recovery from a prop failure, you have to look back and say that the rest was in comparison, simply disappointing.
So sadly, this is not a production I’d recommend you invest in an evening watching. It is left wanting in too many ways, and is a lapse from recent great form in productions at the Lyceum. You will enjoy in particular the characters of Myra and Judith. You will certainly have had a few little chuckles, but you will hardly consider that you have really been entertained. The appeal here should be an evening enjoying a cracking performance of a classic farce, but this is simply short of the mark all round.
Click to book tickets for Hay Fever today
Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
10 March – 1 April 2017 7:30pm, Matinees Wed & Sat: 2pm 2hr30m approx including one interval