‘Hay Fever’: An evening of hijinks and delightfully hateable characters

‘Hay Fever’:  An evening of hijinks and delightfully hateable characters
Image: Zoe Wilson, Elizabeth MacGregor, Harry Charlesworth in HAY FEVER, Genesian Theatre. Credit: Luke Holland, LSH Media

Noël Coward’s Hay Fever is not so much a comedy of manners but rather, the lack there of. The Bliss family at the centre of the play are four of the most obnoxious, vain, selfish, indifferent people as ever graced the Genesian Theatre stage. It’s all good, though, Coward has given us permission to despise them. 

Hay Fever premiered on the West End in 1925. The inspiration for the central character, Judith Bliss, matriarch of the Bliss family, has been attributed to a number of eccentric actresses within Coward’s orbit, and the role itself was written with a particular notable actress of the time, Marie Tempest, in mind. 

Laura Wallace, Simon Pearce, Karys Kennedy, Yusuf Nayir in HAY FEVER, Genesian Theatre. Credit: Luke Holland, LSH Media

In the current production by Genesian Theatre Co, Judith is played by Elizabeth MacGregor who might very well be channelling some of those earlier influences. She is deliciously melodramatic and forceful in a role that is pivotal. 

In short, the Bliss family have recently moved to a large country house after Judith’s retirement from the theatre. The “hay fever” of the title refers to her difficulty in adapting to country life.

Her husband, David (Christopher Gale) is a writer who spends most of his time ensconced in an upstairs room trying to complete a novel. Their two young adult children, Sorel (Zoe Wilson) and Simon (Harry Charlesworth) mope around sullenly with the boredom that comes with an overblown sense of entitlement. 

Roslyn Hicks, Harry Charlesworth in HAY FEVER, Genesian Theatre. Credit: Luke Holland, LSH Media

Unbeknown to each other, they have all invited a guest to spend the weekend at the house, in each case, with some sort of romantic possibility in mind. The guests are:  Sandy Tyrell (Yusuf Nayir) a handsome bachelor; Myra Arundel (Karys Kennedy) a flirtatious socialite; Richard Greatham (Simon Pearce) a conservative diplomat;  and Jackie Coryton (Laura Wallace) a nondescript ingenue.

Through various machinations, the invitees end up entangled with a family member who was not the one who invited them. Gradually, however, the guests become disenchanted with the self-indulgent, quirky Bliss family. 

Elizabeth MacGregor as Judith Bliss in HAY FEVER, Genesian Theatre. Credit: Luke Holland, LSH Media

Another notable character and actor is Clara, Judith’s dresser-turned-maid, played with perfect comic/dramatic temperament by Roslyn Hicks. 

This is a fun evening of hijinks with gorgeous sets and costumes and excellent performances. 

Until July 27

Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent St, Sydney

genesiantheatre.com.au 

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