We had a nightmare journey getting to Kingston’s Rose Theatre, and I have to say its location is its real downfall. Such a shame considering the calibre of work they put on is so high. With no tube station in Kingston, the route from central London is rather fiddly, so we drove and were confronted by a million and one angry drivers, apparently also on their way to Kingston. It was not fun, and while running from the car park to the theatre, with exactly 6.5 minutes to spare, I thought to myself, ‘this play better be bloody good.’ I’m pleased to report back that it was, bloody, bloody good, and entirely worth the stressful trek.
Hay fever was written by Coward in just three days; much of the material taken from his experiences while staying with the loopy Manners family. Great actress and singer Marie Tempest refused it at first; Coward wrote a few more plays and revues, became the hottest playwright in the West End, and Tempest unsurprisingly changed her mind about the Hay fever part. Ever since the leading role of Judith Bliss has been a part for only the most fabulous of older actresses, including Edith Evans and Judi Dench. The Rose Theatre is lucky to have not one but two established actresses taking on the role, Celia Imrie (who I saw) takes the first half of the run, and Nichola McAuliffe the second.
This is Coward’s comic writing at its very best. However the play's success also depends on the chemistry and innuendo created on stage by the cast. Hay fever is a farce set in an English country house in the 1920s. We are introduced to the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and watch the hysterical consequences as each invite a guest to stay for the weekend.
The Rose Theatre has a contemporary feel with a simple stage that allows it to be transformed for each production. The set for Hay fever was beautifully ornate with a real attention to detail, similar in fact to Coward’s Waiting for Wings that I saw a few weeks ago. Designer Simon Higlett and costume designer Mia Flodquist should be commended for their thought-provoking work on this show, they manage to create a real atmosphere further enhanced by the music. Imrie commands the stage and seems to relish the experience of being Judith Bliss. This is due also to the wonderful direction from Stephen Unwin.
Hay fever’s younger roles are taken on by Georgia Maguire and Joshua McGuire (both recent drama school graduates) playing the two bratty Bliss children. It takes a huge amount of energy to be that tiresome, they pulled it off wonderfully, chasing each other around the stage and being deliciously unaware of their conceited selfish behaviour. I enjoyed watching the interaction between mother and children, especially as Imrie (typically devastated about getting old) acts with her younger, more beautiful daughter (Maguire) flitting between pride and jealousy. It soon becomes clear that Judith Bliss is the pivot of the action, leading the characters around her from delirium to dismay and back again.
This play is right up my street, I enjoyed it so much I was still laughing in the intervals... I even forgot about my dreadful cold. The Bliss family are utterly dysfunctional, but work in their own way. I think there is something here for everyone to identity with. And about half way through Hay fever I realised the mad melodramatic ensemble I was watching on stage are really quite similar to my own rowdy Bohemian family!
Buy tickets here.