On the sun-drenched quad of Brasenose College, the Pimms is being poured and Cole Porter’s ‘Let’s Do It’ provides the perfect back-drop to the sparkling comedy that is Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, one of the plays being staged during the Brasenose Arts Week. The setting is simple: one stage dominated by a large, green sofa which is well utilised throughout as the Bliss family negotiate their various melodramas, as well as extra chairs for when their guests arrive, plenty of whisky, and a rug that seemed determined to trip everyone up (much like the many and varied romance plots the characters waltz through.) The Bliss family – David, absent minded author, his theatrical wife Judith, and their children Sorel and Simon – live in their own melodramatic world in the country, but things are shaken up when each invites a visitor to stay for the weekend.
Judith – played with no holds barred and a fabulous RP by Emily Lassman – is contemplating a return to the theatre whilst she entertains her young friend Sandy, whilst her husband has invited a rather unpredictable young woman whom he “wishes to observe”. Meanwhile Sorel and Simon are both hosting potential lovers, one a non-committal diplomatist and the other a very confident and determined flapper. In traditional Noël Coward style, everything descends from here to erratic games, intrigues on the river and a sullen French maid.
The young Blisses, Simon and Sorel – played by Phil Rigley and Clare Pleydell-Bouverie – are a seamless foil for one another, with the actors managing to create appealing characters out of essentially spoilt children. Pleydell-Bouverie refines the tantrum scowl whilst Rigley charms his way into the affections of more than one of his guests. Ben Dawes and Melissa Thorne, as the diplomatist and the shy flapper, then top the young Blisses’ double act with an eye-wateringly embarrassing first meeting. But in the final act – definitely the most difficult to act as the momentum seems to slow too much following a climactic second act finale – it is Emily Lassman and Jack Flowers who complete the theme of double acts wonderfully, with their entirely pointless row about the geography of Paris. The cast admirably maintained the humour in the challenging third act, but they were at their peak in the second. Praise is also due to Tori McKenna, pouted to perfection, and David McGinn, as the guests who finally make a stand and to Phoebe Griffith and her French accent.
This is a very funny play, well-acted, directed, and with some wonderful costumes. If you’ve finished an essay and fancy an escape into the twenties, then go and support the Brasenose Arts Week by watching this play. And don’t worry, there’s a marquee in case of rain!
PHOTO / Hay Fever