‘We’re a beastly family, and I hate us!’ laments Sorel Bliss in Hay Fever. And at first it seems all four Blisses share that sentiment.
‘We’re a beastly family, and I hate us!’ laments Sorel Bliss in Hay Fever. And at first it seems all four Blisses share that sentiment. Each has invited a guest to their house in Cookham, and appears to be hoping not just for a weekend of feverish passion but also for a permanent escape: as much from themselves as from the others.
When the guests arrive, however, the Blisses taunt and ignore them by turns. As for feverish passion, it seems readily transferable. Sorel exchanges partners with her mother Judith, and her brother swaps his guest (done as a languorous Cruella de Vil type by Alexandra Gilbreath) for his novelist father’s ‘perfectly sweet flapper’. We realise the Blisses were looking less for escape than for escapist fantasy, as well as for conscripts for the quarrelsome rituals that sustain what is — as Stephen Unwin’s straightforward production emphasises — a self-sufficient, well-functioning family.
Adrian Lukis brings spot-on slapstick instincts to the role of Sorel’s ‘diplomatist’ guest, and Celia Imrie (above) gives us a beguiling Judith, in whom sincerity shimmers through a veil of strategy. But the self-sufficiency of the Bliss family and the stifling symmetries of Coward’s plot give the play the static feel of a sitcom. When the four guests finally leave, relations between the main characters have not so much been resolved as remained the same throughout: fresh for the next episode’s capers.
Hay Fever is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 23 October.