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vintage House party comedy still red hot

Gate Theatre >Chris Wasser

The plot couldn't be simpler. Members of a well-off British family each invite a guest to spend the weekend at their country house. There's the novelist father. The spoilt, emotionally stunted son. The delusional daughter. And, of course, there is Judith -- the retired actress who continues to live her life as though it were a script.

The guests arrive, arguments ensue, love affairs begin, and all hell breaks loose. It's the wonderful dialogue; the colourful mannerisms and vibrant delivery of its players, that keeps Noel Coward's intriguing comedy of manners ticking over.

That it's almost 90 years since Coward's tale of a twisted family and their unfortunate friends made its stage debut, is astounding. Here we have an original set-piece that paved the way for every troubled British family comedy that followed. True, it's all set in one room over two days, but at a time where the majority of the theatre/television/film watching public love nothing better than to bask in the 'reality' of someone else's misery and misfortune on the screen/stage in front of them, it's no surprise that the character-heavy Hay Fever sits so well with its audience.


It's a captivating piece of work; hilariously funny yet always intelligent. Each member of the Bliss family is an ignorant, self-absorbed idiot, not least the father, David (Stephen Brennan), who only appears interested in his work. And the female attention he receives from it. But they're also well educated, with a knack for clever insults and melodramatic temper tantrums.

Certainly, there is plenty to chew on in the way of verbal torment and comedic gestures, but more so in the skillful handling of its individually unique characters. Mark O'Halloran is exceptional as Richard, a guest of the aforementioned daughter Sorel (Beth Cooke). Quite often, it's his exaggerated facial expressions that steal a scene.

Each of the guests arrive to be entertained by separate members of the Bliss family, but very soon, we witness a humorous turn of events and Richard's romantic interest in Judith (a brilliant Ingrid Craigie) when he really should be spending time with her daughter, is but one of the many twists featured throughout. Elsewhere, Marty Rea is comical as the son, Simon, while Barbara Brennan's turn as the whimsical servant, Clara, is short but memorable.

If the ending to this claustrophobic circus is predictable, then I didn't notice, such is the quality of Patrick Mason's direction. Hay Fever is that rare beast -- a play you could easily watch over and over again. HHHHI