Noel Coward at the Noel Coward … and for £10? The opportunity seemed to great to turn down, even though early comments from the blogosphere about Hay Fever had not been very encouraging. But I couldn’t be turned away by people saying that the version X and so did before I moved to London was so great – I’d never seen it before so I didn’t have the memories of a previous outstanding production to corrupt my experience. And Noel Coward is a very good playwright. So who cares if it’s not the best production of all time – I just wanted some laughs.
While this production did have some very odd slowness in the first act, I was enjoyed watching the bizarre characters, all of whom seemed like they’d stepped out of a Nancy Mitford novel – accents posh to high heaven but the accoutrements of an education – good manners – completely lacking. The two fancy talking but crass acting adult children were little stones in the ring created by their self-centered actress mother (Lindsay Duncan) and distracted writer father. All of them seemed dissatisfied with life and disgusted with each other, but it meant the set-up for the four guests – each of whom seemed guaranteed to be hated by at least one of the family members – was going to lead to some serious comedy in the second act.
As promised, everything went to hell in a handbasket in act two, first with a strange charade-like game that most of the guests were either two stupid or too inhibited to play, then when the family members (led by mom) basically turned on the guests. The mind games were astounding and figuring out how much was planned and how much was just the casual way a really tight family would react to people who just didn’t do things their way was fun for me; I found it all seeemd very natural in the end.
The performance seemed really over the top, except for Olivia Colman as the luscious Myra (invited by dad, enemy of mom), who seemed to absolutely get what her role was about. Daughter Sorel – Phoebe Waller-Bridge – moved with the grace of a six week old puppy but with the pushiness of an adult horse, not really believable but fun to watch. And the rest of the cast seemed like a bunch of pros who were doing a show but without the giddy enthusiasm that might have really made this show sing. However, it all made me laugh, and it was absolutely worth what I paid for it – all in all a lovely night out.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012. Hay Fever runs through June 2nd.)