Review: Exton Drama Club stage ambitious play Hay Fever
Exton Drama Club
March 14 to 16
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An ambitious and colourful production of Noel Coward's 1920s play Hay Fever was presented to East Devon audiences by director John Sharples and his team – the latter consummately led by stage manager Hilary Hoar.
The storyline involves a country house weekend, when the bohemian and dysfunctional Bliss family invite – unbeknown to each other – four unsuspecting guests to stay. As the weekend unfolds, the guests become more and more confused by the "theatrical effects" of the Bliss family and the denouement is the guests' premature departure and the celebration by the family – completely ignoring their role as hosts – of the completion of author David Bliss' latest novel.
In last year's London revival of Hay Fever, Lindsay Duncan was magnificent as leading lady Judith Bliss, who prepares for a "return to the stage" by working her magic on each of the guests, to their utter chagrin and embarrassment. In the Exton production too, Emma Blasdale's Judith was the stand-out performance, but she was ably supported by young cast members Rachel Feeny-Williams (as her daughter, Sorel – intent on "improving herself"), and Tom Alford (as artistic but moody son, Simon).
Sophie Pillow was the "young flapper" guest Jackie – demure, occasionally waspish but ultimately overcome by the "divinely mad family" – and Dustin Sanders was heart-throb guest Sandy Tyrrell. Marnie Pyne gave an assured performance as the flirtatious Myra Arundel, whose attempts (using "sex as a kind of shrimping net") to entrap the famous author were ultimately doomed.
Simon Bolt was a louche, slightly rakish and tetchy David Bliss; and Kevin Butler was the much-travelled but emotionally naive "well known diplomatist", Richard Greatham (played by Jeremy Northam in the London revival). Gloria McGinty completed the cast with a cameo performance as Judith's dresser and general factotum, Clara.
The 60-strong audience are always a key part of the production in Exton's hospitable but rather small village hall venue, and are as much part of the show as the cast themselves. The three excellent audiences who joined the fun may be congratulated on playing their part in this witty and nostalgic gem.
by Niv Longfellow