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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Review of Hay Fever, Royal Exchange, Manchester

I finally got to see the Royal Exchange's current production of Noel Coward's Hay Fever last night. The show has been running since July 1 and was scheduled to end on August 9, but due to overwhelming demand has been extended an extra week until August 16 - pretty impressive, considering that the Royal Exchange's ticket prices are not exactly compatible with a country supposedly in the grip of a credit crunch.

This is a slick, professional production starring Belinda Lang as Judith Bliss, and Ben Keaton as her husband David. For those not familiar with the plot (such as it is), the Bliss family are an excentric mother, father, son and daughter, living in splendid isolation following Judith's retirement from the stage. The action of the play centres around one weekend when, unbeknownst to each other, all four of the Bliss family have invited a guest down to stay. The comedy arises from the reactions of these four visitors to the behaviour of the Blisses over the course of a memorable Saturday evening, which includes parlour games, mistaken marriage proposals and some fumbling in the library. All very silly, of course, but also very funny, and full of Coward's sly wit on the subject of the moneyed upper classes.

Of the actors on show here, Lang does well to make Judith both vile and strangely likeable, but Ben Keaton seems slightly miscast as novelist David. Lysette Anthony makes a good job of the catty Myra Arundal, a visitor of questionable morals, but they are all upstaged by relative newcomer Fiona Button as the nineteen year old Sorel Bliss.

A few tickets are still available to catch this enjoyable romp, although your best bet might be to ring up on the day of performance to book one of the first come, first serve banquettes at the edge of the stage - great value at £8.50.

  • The Royal Exchange Theatre is on St Ann's Square, Manchester M2 7DH. Box Office 0161 8339833.

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