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BWW Reviews: Stratford Festival's HAY FEVER

Following up on the success of last season's production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, the Stratford Festival is presenting another Noel Coward favourite this year. HAY FEVER recently opened at the Avon Theatre, and judging from the raucous laughter it produced from the opening night audience, it is likely to be a hit among theatre-goers this season.

HAY FEVER is a farcical comedy of manners about the Bliss family-an upper class family who are either out of touch with the realities of the world around them...or simply uninterested! Each family member has a self-involved way of looking at the world, and they each...to put it lightly...have a flare for the dramatic.

The play begins with the family bemoaning the fact that each one of them had separately invited a guest over to the family home for the weekend. Although each character initially appears to be upset that there will be multiple guests, it quickly becomes apparent that they love, and thrive on the chaos that a full house allows for. Soon, the unplanned party becomes nothing short of chaotic--with exaggerated romances, seemingly scandalous affairs, jilted lovers showing extreme forgiveness--all in the name of putting on a good show, which is what the Bliss family is all about. It is great fun for the audience to watch the houseguests try to comprehend what bizarre world they have been catapulted into!

The Bliss family is well cast. Lucy Peacock portrays Judith Bliss-a character without many redeeming qualities, who is likeable non-the-less. Judith is a retired stage actress who yearns for the drama and attention that came with that life. Luckily for her, she has a family who shares her desire for drama, and some unsuspecting houseguests who make excellent victims, as they unknowingly become part of the show the Bliss's are putting on. Ms. Peacock commands the stage. Her Judith is both hilarious and ridiculous and she is so much fun to watch.

As the patriarch of the family, Kevin Bundy is great as David Bliss. At first, the reclusive novelist appears to share the eccentricities that the rest of his family possesses, but seems to not have nearly as much of a penchant for the dramatic. As the play progresses, however; we discover that David is indeed a member of the Bliss family, and that he too, is all too prepared to stir up some drama.

Rounding out the Bliss family, are the adult children of Judith and David. Tyrone Savage is hilarious as Simon-a character who is the true definition of a dilettante; and Ruby Joy, who is excellent and understated as Sorel-the one member of the family who may be most in touch with reality, yet who also cannot seem to help participating in the Bliss family circus.

The unsuspecting houseguests, who end up becoming a part of this immersive family theatre production, are equally as entertaining as the family (aka their captors)! Sanjay Talwar as the diplomat Richard Greatham is exquisitely hysterical, Cynthia Dale brings a posh presence to Myra Arundel-a rival to Judith and love interest for both Simon and David. Gareth Potter is loveable as boxer, Sandy Tyrell, who becomes in far too over his head when it comes to the Bliss ladies. Ijeoma Emesowum is also very good as the naïve and innocent Jackie Coryton, who, unlike the other guests, is uncomfortable from start to finish. Sarah Orenstein also deserves a shout-out for her role as Clara the maid. Her exhausted and nihilistic demeanor give us a good idea of what it would be like to work for that family!

HAY FEVER is a delightful comedy from start to finish. It emphasizes the absurd, but not to the point where audiences cannot relate (hopefully to a much lesser degree than what is presented in this play) to some awkward yet incredibly memorable gatherings that they have experienced themselves.

HAY FEVER plays at the Avon Theatre until October 11.



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