Noel Cowards ‘Hayfever’ is a production of rambunctious frivolity centred around a handful of preposterous yet equally adorable key characters. Themes of class, desperation, and social anxiety are intricately weaved throughout the play and explode in a series of social high jinks, akin to the type of hilarious romantic missteps you’d find in ‘A Mid-Summer Nights Dream’.
As the curtains lift, we are transported to a manicured country estate (somewhere suitably south of London), in the heartland of all that is pompous and proper about the British upper classes. It’s the not the kind of place where you expect to see a Tesco or Sainsburys; this is undoubtedly Waitrose country.
It’s a summery weekend in June when we are introduced to the 4 members of the egocentric Bliss family. There’s mother Judith Bliss who’s acerbic tongue and overtly sexually agenda are played out hysterically by Marina Prior. Kim Gyngell plays David Bliss, the cantankerous novelist father who appears to have little to no affection towards his family and then there’s Sorel and Simon (played by Imogen Sage and Gareth Davies) the two equally vacuous and affected siblings whose apparent naivety has been shaped by their prohibitive bubble of privilege (amusingly it’s almost as if they’ve never seen the outside world).
Everyone in the Bliss family appears to be so desperately bored by their existence that they’ve each invited a guest (read: plaything) to keep them entertained over the weekend. The Bliss’s slap-dash approach to hospitality implodes in a series of games that are inadvertently (or not?) designed to expose the weaknesses of their guests whilst reinforcing the family’s ardent sense of self-entitlement. Moments of social anxiety and loaded silences are peppered throughout the play to hilarious affect, so much so that I found myself peering through parted fingers in embarrassment at several turns.
I delighted in the conceit and lunacy of the Bliss family and I empathised with the innocence of the guests who were all equally baffled by the intention of their hosts’ theatrical charade; and I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the obvious flaws in each character, which over the course of the play, become endearing qualities.
All of this coupled with the English country manner setting, the costumes befitting the pretentions of each character and the proficiency of the players, had me captivated. Not to mention - an added benefit of Marina Prior’s lead in this production means that you’ll be treated to a goose-bump inducing operatic moment which serves to reinforce her strongly held position in Australian theatre royalty.
If you are a fan of character centred comedies where obsessions and compulsions play out to disastrous effect (think Bridget Jones) or if you're one of those people who finds amusement in socially awkward moments (like that time you waved back at someone who wasn’t actually waving to you) then you'll love this production.
I really had no idea what to expect of Hayfever as I hadn’t heard much about it before but I can honestly say that the cast and crew delivered a night of delightful entertainment and plenty of laughs.
Hayfever is performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company and is playing at the Southbank Theatre until the 28th of October 2017. For more info hit up http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2017/hay-fever/
Words by Clare Burbridge: Melbourne girl passionate about creative and corporate writing. Obsessed with travel. Even more obsessed with Paris. INFJ.