Hay Fever

Hay Fever
By Noël Coward. New Theatre. October 8 – November 2, 2013.

Australian’s aren’t too practised at perfecting Noël Coward and certainly not at the New, where he’s the antithesis to its historic association with socially relevant theatre.

Coward requires the lightest of touches. The truth needs careful separating, slow heating into a bouncy soufflé, sprinkled with crisply nuanced dialogue: a gossamer of society and manners which amuses as much as it disguises.

Hay Fever, written by a young Coward in 1924, takes us to the country home of the bohemian and self-absorbed Bliss family – an actress of uncertain age struggling to stay in retirement, her remote novelist husband and their two myopic children. Each Bliss has invited a houseguest selected to boost their egos, and after drinks and cruel party games all are unhappily swept up in the family’s theatrical indulgences. 

All this is very funny which is a credit to the endurance of Coward. It has little to do with the loads of shouting and mugging with which this cast threatens to flatten his soufflé. With little relish for Coward’s fine timing and rhythms, Rosane McNamara’s production delivers little sense or provokes any curiousity as to what may lurk beneath the gossamer - namely, why these folk are so addicted to the charades of life and romance.

It’s certainly transparent with Judith Bliss, whose theatrical desperation to create drama from nothing is given full rein and wit by Alice Livingstone. As her children, David Halgren and Jorja Brain shout to match her high camp register but without taking much truth along with it. They and others are nicely costumed as jazz age flappers but the set is strangely tawdry and without the New’s usual detail and effect.

Adrian Adam and Giles Gartrell-Mills give welcome restrained performances as two of the incongruous houseguests.   

Martin Portus

Photographer: Bob Seary.

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