Hay Fever (Bath Theatre Royal)

Hay Fever is superficial but handsomely mounted with a terrific turn by Felicity Kendall at its heart.

Felicity Kendall (Judith Bliss) in Hay Fever
Felicity Kendall (Judith Bliss) in Hay Fever
© Nobby Clarke

Its been a scorching summer season for Bath Theatre Royal, with productions of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Thérèse Raquin and Bad Jews providing some of the South West theatrical highlights of the year. Noel Coward’s Hay Fever brings the season to a handsomely mounted but slightly superficial finale.

Of course that may be the point. Coward crafted a play about the bohemian Bliss’ that is style over substance, just like the family themselves. And no one writes style quite like Coward. The play is funny, bright and cruel but in Lindsay Posner‘s production only half the cast have got the style of performing him and it is a pleasant diversion rather then a production that hits the heart.

At its centre is Felicity Kendall‘s Judith Bliss, a grande dame who treats her family home as her stage and dominates proceedings with a performance that interestingly stays away from her more monstrous side and displays the fragility that hangs at the heart of most great performers. When she comments on the state of her marriage we see into the soul of a women who needs the affection of her husband more then the acclaim of her public but is denied it. It is a graceful, absorbing performance at the heart of the piece and Kendall is reason enough to book a ticket.

There is strong supporting work from Michael Simkins as a buttoned up diplomat whose cool decorum is replaced by a look of horror as the family resort to seducing and destroying their guests, James Corrigan as a besotted Sandy Tyrell who soon switches his affections and Sara Stewart who vamps it up something rotten even whilst hindered with a horrendous wig that takes away from her own natural charms.

Peter Mckintosh‘s set gets a clap as the curtains go up and its that kind of night. Its not the best of Coward but there is enough wit and acid one liners to keep it flying along, helped with the good grace of the audience and Kendall’s performance at its centre is one to saviour.

Hay Fever plays at Bath Theatre Royal until the 6th September then tours to Richmond and Brighton until the 27th September