Dysfunctionally Happy Together
In her notes in the program, Director Alisa Palmer compares Noel Coward’s Hay Fever to the TV show Seinfeld. It’s a play about nothing, just as the Seinfeld creators said about their show. And like Seinfeld, Hay Fever is a group of quirky, eccentric people who pretend they are normal. The Bliss family is anything but. Nevertheless, you will recognize some of the oddities now on stage at the Avon Theatre in Stratford.
The curtains go up on Bliss family home. The set showing the once elegant but now over-cluttered parlour featuring a curved marble stair case is applauded for its detail.
The four family members – mother Judith Bliss(Lucy Peacock) is an actress who obviously thrives on drama in her life; father David Bliss (Kevin Bundy) is a writer, apparently of mediocre books; daughter Sorel Bliss (Ruby Joy) is the only family member trying to grasp at normalcy; and son Simon Bliss (Tyrone Savage) is a wanna-be artist filling the walls of their home with his work. Each family member has invited a house guest, unbeknownst to the others. When they learn of each other’s guests, no one approves of them.
Judith has invited Sandy Tyrell (Gareth Potter) a boxer who is her devoted fan; David invited Jackie Coryton (Ijeoma Emesowum), a young flapper who is enthralled with spending time with a writer; Sorel has invited Richard Greatham (Sanjay Talwar), a prim and proper diplomat who is in family’s opinion an unsuitable suitor, and Simon invited Myra Arundel (Cynthia Dale), a socialite too old for Simon and disliked by Judith.
The comedy is built around the interaction of these eight characters sharing space. Of course, there are shifts in the romantic liaisons and the houseguests are baffled by the Bliss family games, both literal and figurative. Without giving away the ending, suffice to say the Bliss family stays happily dysfunctional.
Lucy Peacock as Judith, the very dramatic actress, is deliciously overdone. Her arms wave about as she rudely interrupts everyone else. The character demands that she is the centre of attention, and Peacock easily achieves that. Ruby Joy as Sorel does an excellent portrayal of a young woman who knows that the rest of the world doesn’t behave as badly as her family, and yet she just can’t help herself. Joy makes the character’s difficult premise quite reasonable.
Tyrone Savage is charming as Simon, and demonstrates his condescending demeanour and lack of ambition without being too annoying. Kevin Bundy as David also gives us moments of insight: he knows he’s not a brilliant writer, but he’s ready to take on any member of the family who doesn’t treat him with the respect a writer should have.
Adding to the comedy is Clara (Sarah Orenstein), the maid, who grouses about, cigarette dangling from her mouth. The four house guests are suitably baffled then exasperated with the outcome of what was supposed to be an exciting weekend. The entire cast also has fun with the marble staircase, tripping over a step midway, each time they go up or down.
With Peacock playing the overly dramatic actress, this is an actor’s play. On opening night it was easy to identify pockets of fellow actors in the audience, as they roared with laughter at Peacock’s antics.
This three act play has an early intermission between Act I and II, then no break as it moves into Act III.
It’s an evening of laughs, and funny observations. Making it especially interesting is the fact that Coward wrote it in 1924 and it was first produced in 1925. Yet the humour isn’t dated – in fact, it’s just a little off-kilter, Seinfeld style. Both Hay Fever and Seinfeld have withstood the test of time.
Hay Fever continues in repertoire until October 11 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
By Noel Coward
Directed by Alisa Palmer
Performed by Lucy Peacock, Kevin Bundy, Ruby Joy, Tyrone Savage, Sarah Orenstein, Gareth Potter, Cynthia Dale, Ijeoma Emesowum, Sanjay Talwar.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Festival, Stratford
June 19 to October 11, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Photo: Ruby Joy as Sorel Bliss, Lucy Peacock as Judith Bliss and Tyrone Savage as Simon Bliss in Hay Fever. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.