Hay Fever

Jo McEniery

A rollicking and ridiculous rendition of Noël Coward’s comedy of bad manners.
Hay Fever

Image: Simon Gleeson, Marina Prior (credit: Brett Boardman)

In its current production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, Melbourne Theatre Company entices audiences into a lavishly over-the-top world of bad manners and witty one-liners.

If we’re going to be completely honest, Hay Fever is a ridiculous play. It’s a story about a family of misfits who alienate all who come into contact with them. The action sees four self-conscious strangers land on the doorstep of the Bliss family home, and receive in turns a frosty and amorous reception, depending on which member of the Bliss family they encounter.

The story follows these characters as they navigate the fickle personalities and misguided sexual advances of their hosts.

The star-studded ensemble clearly has a lot of fun with this work, and who wouldn’t? Histrionics, all out family warfare, melodrama – it’s the stuff of a drama queen’s wildest dreams.

Marina Prior slots beautifully into the role of narcissistic retired actress Judith Bliss. She is over the top in all the right ways and it’s a treat to hear her stretch her vocal chords with the same dexterity that shot her to fame in Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.

There are a number of accent slips during the show but for the most part the cast sits well in their roles. Bliss family brother and sister duo Simon (Gareth Davies) and Sorel (Imogen Sage) are deliciously disgusting in their respective roles. Alexandra Keddie deserves a special mention for her delightfully awkward portrayal of ingénue Jackie Coryton.

Some of the slower solo moments could have benefitted from a faster turnaround, as the contrast from the frenetic pace of the majority of the piece was at times a little jarring.

While the first act sets the scene in an engaging and playful way, Act Two loses the audience a little in melodrama. It’s Act Three that brings it all together by highlighting the absolute ridiculousness of it all. Our opening night audience left buzzed up, bemused, but ultimately amused at the utter silliness of it all. 

The set design by Christina Smith is a huge strong point of the production. Costume Designer Esther Marie Hayes clearly has fun playing with 1920s fashion through several glamorous costume choices.

Almost 100 years since Noël Coward’s masterpieces were first created and they are still evoking the same self-conscious guffaws from audiences who recognise their own flawed humanness in these well-drawn characters.

Even if we don’t see ourselves in the Bliss family’s dysfunctional behaviour, we all know someone who too vividly reminds us of Judith, Sorel, Simon and David Bliss.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

Hay Fever 

Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
Until 28 October
Featuring: Marina Prior, Gareth Davies, Marg Downey, Simon Gleeson, Kim Gyngell, Alexandra Keddie, Imogen Sage, Monica Sayers and Drew Weston
Directed by: Lee Lewis

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Jo McEniery is a Melbourne-based writer and poet.