HAY FEVER. Written by Noel Coward. Directed by Isabel Ormandy, with Michelle Galloway, Trevor Joubert, Tania Lemme, Lee William Speechly, Melissa Sanderson, Mark Wilkes, Dirk Jonker, Estie de Wet and Beryl Eichenberger.

Hay Fever is a comedy of bad manners
Hay Fever is a comedy of bad manners

THERESA SMITH reviews

Rude people behaving badly makes for great memes nowadays, but back in the day it was so uncommon that Noel Coward wrote a play around the idea.

Cerebral farce (as opposed to physical) comes into play in this comedy of bad manners which features a strong ensemble.

Hay Fever is a funny piece of nonsense about a weekend away in the English countryside. The Bliss family have invited guests over because they are bored and determined to be amused. Daughter of the house, Sorel Bliss (Lemme) sets the scene right at the beginning when she mentions to her brother Simon Bliss (Speechly) that the family have appalling manners and don’t know how to make guests feel at home.

While nothing much really happens in the play, other than the Bliss family having great fun at their guests’ expense, your attention is constantly drawn to the witty interchanges between characters.

Some of what was really shockingly rude a century ago is now just normal repartee, but every now and then someone delivers a zinger and it is amusing.

Over the top over-acting

The first act takes its time to set the scene, but the pace picks up considerably in the second act once we have established who is who in the zoo. Even housekeeper Clara, (Eichenberger shuffling about in the most ridiculous wig) who at first you think is going to be the one nice person, gets a dig in every now and then at everyone.

Where Eichenberger affects a Cockney accent everyone else tries for varying degrees of a plummy English accent. As Bliss matriach Michelle Galloway takes the cake with not only the accent, but the OTT way she (figuratively) clutches at her pearls for attention.

When she and her children dramatise one of her plays (Judith is a retired diva of the stage) you see what truly over the top over-acting is, and realise each of the actors is doing a good job with their characterisation. From the way Estie de Wet’s good timing helps you realise what an innocent Jackie Coryton is, to Dirk Jonker’s restrained manner helping to set up character Richard Greatham’s diplomatic equanimity (which makes his character falling for Judith’s machinations all the more funny), the characterisation is what makes this work.

Barry Altwig’s set design goes a long way to situating the scenario in 1920s England, but it is a hermetically sealed point in time. Just as the set is not affected by what happens outside (despite people constantly disappearing into the garden or referencing the outside world) the play works as long as you suspend your awareness of contemporary times and mores and think about how shocking this “rudeness” would have been in old school polite society.

It’s a fun night of escapism that, while now longer completely outrageous simply because of contemporary standards of politeness, is still deliciously amusing.

Whats on stage in Cape Town.

What: Hay Fever review
Where, when: Milnerton Playhouse Cape Town until 8 June 2019
Hay Fever tickets: Quicket, 082 267 1061
WS