Adelaide Theatre Guide
Reviewed by Aaron MacDonald
Noël Coward has a wonderful gift for writing really, really unlikeable characters. His people are caricatures of upper-class vice - and not even the good vices, like drink, drugs and sex. They are petulant, sulky, sycophantic and limp.
They have the potential for great depth and redemption through Coward’s acid wit. But the humour is subtle and dated and easily missed by an inattentive audience or cast, and when it goes away, the characters fall flat. We’ll come back to that.
The plot of “Hay Fever” is par for the course: manor house, farce, upper-class twats running on and off. A stately nuclear family have invited four houseguests for the weekend; there are a serious of hilarious misunderstandings and then everyone lives happily ever after, except most of them.
Female performances are adequate. Nicole Seal does fine as the bombastic family matriarch, late of the stage and late of life, but she must take care not to be too hammy. The other women are okay in their parts.
Things fare less well on the less fair side. It’s the old Goldilocks problem: there is either too little acting (people shuffling around and delivering lines with no naturality and wearing a constant look of abject terror at having found themselves on the stage) or too much (over-the-top hammery to the point where one has to stifle laughter, and not at the jokes).
The problem is a lack of experience – many of the actors are new to the stage – and an apparent lack of direction.
There are some bad, bad sections that could be blamed on the actors, but director Damien White can take the bullet instead. For example, there is an awful piece of business with a cigarette case that absolutely doesn’t work the first time, but is repeated throughout the show. Surely, watching the show, you would realise it is clumsy and bad and kill it. Perhaps it was fine in rehearsals; even so, that’s cold comfort to the audience.
The cast do settle into their roles as the show goes on (needs to be snappier), so it may be a case of opening night jitters. Those who are weak need to be imbued with the confidence to break out and act (which this review will not help with) and those who are over-the-top need to be brought down to earth and turned in the right direction.
Technically, White has eschewed the usual box set for a super-minimalist open stage with a few pieces of furniture. This is a nice idea in theory, but theories tend to be as reliable as an umbrella made of biscuits. It doubles the area the actors have to work with, leading to awkward blocking and failed/overlong gags. “Lights go on, lights go off” lighting design and mismatched furniture don’t help conjure up the image of “stately drawing room”.
The octet play a parlous game early in the piece, in which they each try (poorly) to act out a single adverb (petulantly, weakly, sulkily, winsomely); it is an unpleasant but apt metaphor for a show of one-note characters. Still, there are laughs to be had if you can overlook the flaws, and in this era of $50 amateur shows, Blackwood tickets are attractively priced indeed.
Reviewed by Lesley Reed
Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is a comedy of manners and high farce in which the four members of the eccentric and self-obsessed Bliss family host a motley assortment of house guests. They become the family’s victims in a feast of pretence and comic cruelty.
First performed in 1925, Noel Coward described Hay Fever as “one of the most difficult plays to perform that I have encountered”. Blackwood Players are to be congratulated for being brave enough to stage it with a generally inexperienced cast. However, while there are some good moments, the production falls short on several fronts.
Coward’s writing is economical and razor sharp, so pace matters. The pace on the night I saw this production was very slow, especially in terms of entrances and dialogue exchange. The set was disappointing. Consisting of a rundown and clearly uncomfortable two-seater together with other assorted furniture on a bare stage, it did not achieve the relative minimalism director Damien White wanted. Unfortunately it also fell short in suggesting either the privileged life of the Blisses or even the bohemian lifestyle to which they pretended.
Rosie Williams, as daughter Sorel Bliss, was the most successful in portraying the Coward style. Nicole Seal, as mother and West End star, Judith Bliss, was solid, but less shrillness and more predatory sexuality is needed. Ben Todd doesn’t quite hit the mark in the difficult role of the cynical author and father, David Bliss.Mitchell Lowe was clearly nervous in his role as Simon Bliss, but needs to develop more ‘brat’ as the spoiled son.
Amongst the guests, Scott Brokenshireas Richard Greatham and Mikhaila Dignam, as the flapper Jackie Coryton, successfully portrayed the underlying sense of confusion and belittlement experienced by the visitors. Their scene together soon after arrival when the hosts deserted them was delightful. Paul Hutchison, as Sandy Tyrell, drew giggles from the start and Miffy Davis, as Myra Arundel, was suitably sophisticated.
Despite the production’s faults, the experience gained from bravely staging Hay Fever will serve Blackwood Players and its enthusiastic cast and crew well for the future.
Reviewed by Stephen Davenport
Blackwood Players' production of Haygever is agonizingly comical.
The secret of this revival of Noël Coward’s play of bad manners is the natural and combustible chemistry between mother and daughter Judith Bliss (Nicole Seal) and Sorel Bliss (Rosie Williams). They are both sublime and indecently funny when exuding theatrical excesses while tormenting a group of unsuspecting visitors.
Coward’s script is dazzling clever and hugely funny, but it still takes a great deal of talent to produce a remarkable, thoughtful comedy with memorable performances from striking actors. Damien White succeeds on all levels. He directs with a controlled energy and effectively glosses over the dearth of plot by allowing a loose yet familiar interplay between his players that drives the production and gives it endless charm.
The action is set in the 1920s, and deals with the four Bohemian members of the Bliss family and their eccentric conduct when they each, without consulting the others, invite a guest to spend the weekend at their English country manor. Sorel has invited Diplomat Richard Greatham (Scott Brokenshire) and her brother Simon has invited femme-fatale Myra Arundel played fearlessly and fabulously by Miffy Davies. The siblings are displeased when their mother, a retired actress, announces she is hosting, Sandy Tyrell one of her worshipping fans. When patriarch David Bliss declares that Jackie Coryton has accepted his invitation for the weekend the entire household is upset. From this distraught beginning the fun starts as the Bliss family sabotage each others’ plans.
The farcical shenanigans are almost verbal-slapstick yet side-splittingly hilarious. Seal and Williams et al, deftly balance their characters emotive outbursts with lashings of comedy and an abundance of charm. Hayfever is a pure delight.