Photo: Alan Dean. A play that, in the author’s own words, has “no plot at all and remarkably little action,” Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is notoriously difficult to get right. While the playwright provides a sinfully witty script, the onus is on the actors to give meaning. Every phrase must be accompanied with a movement and a glance that is just so in this comedy of manners about a bohemian, slightly unhinged family who torment their unsuspecting weekend guests. The end result should be a comedy that resides in the half pauses and affected looks to be fund in between the words, rather than strictly the script itself. Tim Ginley’s production for the Ottawa Little Theatre is a valiant effort with some solid performances, but ultimately doesn’t quite live up to the script’s promise.
Hay Fever is set in the home of the eccentric Blisses – Judith, a retired narcissist of an actress; David, a self-centered novelist, and Sorel and Simon, their two egotistical children. They live in an over-the-top world where reality veers off into fiction at the drop of a hat. The family creates melodrama out of everything and nothing. One gets the distinct impression that the family needs this melodrama to survive; they get off on it. This peculiar way of life is unleashed on their poor, unsuspecting guests – Sandy, the boxer, Myra, the fashionable socialite, Richard, the proper diplomat, and Jackie, the shy, somewhat dimwitted flapper. The guests are humiliated, excluded, and used as the Bliss‘ playthings, much to their confusion.
Margaret Coderre Williams’ set design is what one has come to expect form the Ottawa Little Theatre: simple, elegant, and beautifully representative of early 20th century British charm. Likewise, Monica Browness’ 1920s costumes are absolutely beautiful, all dropped waists and Mary Jane shoes. Both elements work together to recall and define the staged Roaring Twenties in all their decadence and glitz.
Dianna Renee Yorke’s Judith Bliss is a delightfully over the top, self-absorbed ego in woman’s clothing. Her comedic timing is nothing short of lovely and her energy on stage is refreshing. Joining her in a strong performance was Zoe Tupling’s Myra whose mannerisms and speech ooze a straight-talking attitude and a debonaire, blasé outlook you expect from a high-class young, attractive, fun woman of her era.
Yet these two strong actresses don’t balance out the rest of the performances, which are weak. There is a lot of chemistry provided by the script between Sorel and Simon, but Jeremy Piamonte and Katie Volkert, respectively, try too hard to embody these messy bohemian children and end up being tiresome and chasing their characters more than performing them. Both would have benefited from a slightly more dialed back performance and clearer diction.
Penu Chalykoff’s Richard Greatham could have likewise used to dial back his character, especially in the more comedic scenes with a very high-pitched Jackie (played by Katie Kaufman). He was too excited and too awkward. In a script that calls on the actors to take their time with their lines and sink into the awkwardness of the situation, this simply doesn’t work.
Hay Fever at the Ottawa Little Theatre is a decent production of a funny play with some very good moments. However, its comedy ended up falling rather flat and it needs more polishing.
Hay Fever plays at the Ottawa Little Theatre until October 6, 2012
An Ottawa Little Theatre Production
By Noel Coward
Directed by Tim Ginley
Associate director: Margaret Harvey O’Kelly
Assistant to director: Michelle Stewart
Set design: Margaret Coderre Williams
Lighting design: David Magladry
Sound design: Lindsay Wilson
Props: Gil Winstanley & Jennifer Barkley
Costume design: Monica Browness
|Cast (order of appearance)
Sorel Bliss – Katie Volkert
Simon Bliss – Jeremy Piamonte
Judith Bliss – Dianna Renee Yorke
Clara – Gail “Jo” Malloy
David Bliss – Klaas Van Weringh
Myra Arundel – Zoe Tupling
Sandy Tyrell – Andrew Stewart
Richard Greatham – Penu Chalykoff
Jackie Coryton – Katie Kaufman