The first four performances of Peter Hall’s revival of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, starring Judi Dench, has cancelled its first four previews this week, as its star is suffering from a bout of flu. Performances were due to start tonight (Thursday 6 April 2006) ahead of an already re-scheduled press night of 20 April (moved to avoid a clash with an RSC opening in Stratford-upon-Avon – See News, 10 Mar 2006). Performances are now scheduled to commence next Tuesday, 11 April.

Dench was last at the Haymarket in 2002, when she appeared with fellow Dame Maggie Smith in David Hare’s sell-out The Breath of Life. Like then, the Dame effect has propelled ticket prices to a high for West End plays, with standard top-price Hay Fever tickets set at £50 and premium Royal Circle seats and VIP packages at £60 and £100 respectively.

Dench's other recent London theatre credits include the RSC's All's Well That Ends Well, for which she won a Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress, at the Gielgud in 2004; The Royal Family at the Haymarket in 2001/02 (alongside her Hay Fever co-star Peter Bowles, again directed by Hall); Filumena at the Piccadilly in 1999; Amy's View at the National in 1997 and at the Aldwych in 1998 and A Little Night Music at the National in 1995/96. She returns to the RSC’s Stratford home later this year to appear in a musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor as part of the company’s year-long Complete Works Festival (See News, 11 Jul 2005).

In Hay Fever, bohemian actress Judith Bliss (Dench) and her writer husband live in a rural haven with their precocious son and daughter. When various guests are invited down for the weekend, they become pawns in the family’s emotional, madcap games.

First performed in 1925, the comedy of manners was inspired by the eccentric American actress Laurette Taylor, and her husband Hartley, and written by Coward in just three days. It was last seen in the West End at the Savoy in 1999 production directed by Declan Donnellan and starring Geraldine McEwan as Judith.

At the Haymarket, the Hay Fever cast also features Belinda Lang, Kim Medcalf, Charles Edwards and Dan Stevens. It’s produced by Bill Kenwright and continues its limited season until 5 August 2006. Theatregoers who have booked for cancelled performances this week are advised to call their ticket agent or the Haymarket box office on 0870 901 3356.

- by Terri Paddock