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Hay Fever

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There is a moment in-between the second and third acts of Dominic Hill's new production of Noel Coward's 1920s comedy when the flapping stops. That moment belongs to Clara, the life-long dresser and some-time servant to the divine Judith Bliss, actress, matriarch and all-round self-styled legend. As played by Myra McFadyen with a beetling dolefulness, Clara's red-draped routine both confirms and subverts the heightened artifice of everything she is otherwise sidelined from. In this way, she also becomes the melancholy conscience of a play in which the bohemian Bliss family are so desperate to have a good time that even pleasure becomes a struggle.

Coward's conceit of having the Bliss clan so individually self-absorbed that they each invite a weekend guest allows them to be adored by those who become both spectators and bit players in Judith and co's never-ending soap opera. It isn't just Susan Wooldridge's studiedly polished Judith who hams it up in this co-production between the Lyceum and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, as Benny Baxter-Young's novelist patriarch David and their offspring Sorel and Simon also embark on assorted merry dances en route to potential consummation of their ardours.

Body language is everything here, as characters drape themselves over and around each other on Tom Piper's exquisitely exposed set, the wooden staircase of which was made for grand entrances. The cut and thrust between Rosemary Boyle's Sorel and Hywel Simons' stiff-backed Richard are particularly priceless, as is the dismissal of Charlie Archer's puppy-like Simon by Pauline Knowles' ice-cool Myra. Leaving aside the accidental moment in which a piece of unruly furniture threatens to upstage everyone, this is the most human of comedies that basks in its subjects own attention-seeking frailty with deceptively frothy abandon.

The Herald, March 16th 2017

ends

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