Noel Coward Hay Fever at the Duke of Yorks Theatre in London

Hay Fever

Noel Coward's comedy of bad manners which starts with the arrival of four guests invited independently by different members of the Bliss family for a weekend at their country house near Maidenhead. It concerns the way they are alternately amused, ignored, humiliated and ultimately abandoned to slink away by themselves during a blazing family row.

You are cordially invited to the weekend from hell. The Place: Cookham. The Time: June 1925. Your Hosts: The Bliss Family. Set in the Thames-side country house of Judith Bliss, incandescent star of the London stage, who is now sampling the mixed blessings of early retirement with her family. This weeken Judith has a fan coming to stay, Sandy Tyrell; her husband, David, a novelist, has a young flapper girl, Jackie Coryton, visiting in order to study her 'in domestic surroundings' for his next novel; Judith's daughter, Sorel has a diplomat, Richard Greatham; and Judith's son, Simon has invited Myra Arundel. Unfortunately no one has told any of the others that they've invited a guest for the weekend....

What do you mean, exactly, by bad manners? Lack of social tricks and small-talk?
We never attempt to look after people when they come here.
Why should we? It's loathsome being looked after.
Yes, but people like little attentions. We've never once asked anyone if they've slept well.
I consider
that an impertinence.

1925: Original London West End Production with Marie Tempest

1933: 1st London West End Revival with Constance Collier

1941: 2nd London West End Revival with Enid Sass

1964: 3rd London West End Revival with Edith Evans

1968: 4th London West End Revival with Celia Johnson

1980: London Revival with Constance Cumming

1983: 5th London West End Revival with Penelope Keith

1992: 6th London West End Revival with Maria Aitken

1999: 7th London West End Revival with Geraldine McEwan

2006: 8th London West End Revival with Judi Dench

2012: 9th London West End Revival with Lindsay Duncan

2015: 10th London West End Revival with Felicity Kendal

Noel Coward on writing Hay Fever: "The idea came to me suddenly in the garden, and I finished it in about three days, a fact which later on, when I had become news value, seemed to excite gossip-writers inordinately, although why the public should care whether a play takes three days or three years to write I shall never understand. Perhaps they don't. However, when I had finished it and had it neatly typed and bound up, I read it through and was rather unimpressed with it. This was an odd sensation for me, as in those days I was almost always enchanted with everything I wrote. I knew certain scenes were good, especially the breakfast scene in the last act, and the dialogue between the giggling flapper and the diplomat in the first act, but apart from these it seemed to me a little tedious. I think that the reason for this was that I was passing through a transition stage as a writer; my dialogue was becoming more natural and less elaborate, and I was beginning to concentrate more on the comedy values of the situation rather than the comedy values of actual lines."

Noel Coward's other London theatre plays include Blithe Spirit; Private Lives; Brief Encounter; Present Laughter; Fallen Angels; A Song At Twilight; Relative Values; Semi-Monde; Volcano; Design for Living; The Vortex; and Star Quality.

Hay Fever: Original London West End Production 1925

Opened 8 June 1925, Closed 5 September 1925 at the Ambasadors Theatre
Transferred 7 September 1925, Closed 31 March 1926 at the Criterion Theatre

The original cast featured Marie Tempest as 'Judith Bliss' with W Graham Browne as 'David Bliss', Helen Spencer as 'Sorel Bliss', Robert Andrews as 'Simon Bliss', Patrick Susands as 'Sandy Tyrell', Hilda Moore as 'Myra Arundell', Athole Stewart as 'Richard Greatham' and Ann Trevor as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Noel Coward with designs by Gladys E Calthrop. Note that, although this production played a 'straight-run', it closed, as scheduled, at the 'end of March', on Wednesday 31 March 1926.

Hay Fever: 1st London West End Revival 1933

Opened 17 November 1933, Closed 9 December 1933 at the Shaftesbury Theatre

The original cast featured Constance Collier as 'Judith Bliss' with Eric Cowley as 'David Bliss', Helen Spencer as 'Sorel Bliss', Louis Haywood as 'Simon Bliss', Hargrave Pawson as 'Sandy Tyrell', Joyce Barbour as 'Myra Arundell', Alan Napier as 'Richard Greatham' and Ann Trevor as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Noel Coward with designs by Gladys E Calthrop.

Hay Fever: 2nd London West End Revival 1941

Opened 1 April 1941, Closed 14 April 1941 at the Vaudeville Theatre

Presented by the Wilson Barrett Company. The original cast featured Enid Sass as 'Judith Bliss' with George Larchet as 'David Bliss', Joan Benham as 'Sorel Bliss', John Marquand as 'Simon Bliss', Neil Crawford as 'Sandy Tyrell', Phyllis Barker as 'Myra Arundell', Owen Reynolds as 'Richard Greatham' and Joan Land as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Charles Hickman. Presented as a short run as part of a season of 'English Comedies'.

Hay Fever: 3rd London West End Revival 1964

Opened 27 October 1964, Closed 12 June 1965 (in repertory) at the NT Old Vic Theatre

Presented by the National Theatre. The original cast featured Edith Evans as 'Judith Bliss' with Anthony Nicholls as 'David Bliss', Louise Purnell as 'Sorel Bliss', Derek Jacobi as 'Simon Bliss', Robert Stephens as 'Sandy Tyrell', Maggie Smith as 'Myra Arundell', Robert Lang as 'Richard Greatham' and Lynn Redgrave as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Noel Coward with designs by Motley (Margaret Harris, Sophie Harris and Elizabeth Montgomery Wilmot).

Hay Fever: 4th London West End Revival 1968

Opened 14 February 1968, Closed 13 April 1968 at the Duke of York's Theatre

The original cast featured Celia Johnson as 'Judith Bliss' with Roland Culver as 'David Bliss', Simon Williams as 'Simon Bliss', Lucy Fleming as 'Sorel Bliss', Michael Graham Cox as 'Sandy Tyrell', Diana Fairfax as 'Myra Arundel', Richard Vernon as 'Richard Greatham' and Prunella Scales as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Murray Macdonald with designs by Motley (Margaret Harris, Sophie Harris, Elizabeth Montgomery Wilmot).

Hay Fever: London Revival 1980

Previewed 23 April 1980, Opened 29 April 1980, Closed 31 May 1980 at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

The original cast featured Constance Cumming as 'Judith Bliss' with John Le Mesurier as 'David Bliss', Brian Stirner as 'Simon Bliss', Felicity Dean as 'Sorel Bliss', Jeremy Child as 'Sandy Tyrell', Polly Adams as 'Myra Arundel', Moray Watson as 'Richard Greatham' and Yvonne Antrobus as 'Jackie Coryton'.

Directed by Michael Blakemore with designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman.

Hay Fever: 5th London West End Revival 1983

Previewed 18 October 1983, Opened 25 October 1983, Closed 14 April 1984 at the Queen's Theatre (now Sondheim Theatre)

The original cast featured Penelope Keith as 'Judith Bliss' with Moray Watson as 'David Bliss', Rosalyn Landor as 'Sorel Bliss', Mark Payton as 'Simon Bliss', David Delve as 'Sandy Tyrell', Susan Bovell as 'Myra Arundal', Donald Pickering as 'Richard Greatham', Abigail McKern as 'Jackie Coryton' and Elizabeth Bradley as 'Clara'.

Directed by Kim Grant with designs by Carl Toms and lighting by Joe David.

Hay Fever: 6th London West End Revival 1992

Previewed 24 November 1992, Opened 26 November 1992, Closed 24 April 1993 at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre)

The original cast featured Maria Aitken as 'Judith Bliss' with John Standing as 'David Bliss', Abigail Cruttenden as 'Sorel Bliss', Nick Waring as 'Simon Bliss', Richard Garnett as 'Sandy Tyrell', Carmen Du Sautoy as 'Myra Arundell', Christopher Godwin as 'Richard Greatham', Sara Crowe as 'Jackie Coryton' and Maria Charles as 'Clara'.

Directed by Alan Strachan with designs by Anthony Powell and lighting by Mick Hughes.

Hay Fever: 7th London West End Revival 1999

Previewed 9 June 1999, Opened 14 June 1999, Closed 11 September 1999 at the Savoy Theatre

The original cast featured Geraldine McEwan as 'Judith Bliss' with Peter Blythe as 'David Bliss', Monica Dolan as 'Sorel Bliss', Stephen Mangan as 'Simon Bliss', Scott Handy as 'Sandy Tyrell', Sylvestra Le Touzel as 'Myra Arundel', Malcolm Sinclair as 'Richard Greatham', Cathryn Bradshaw as 'Jackie Coryton' and Anne White as 'Clara'. "Love's Whirlwind" cast included, Caroline Lennon as 'Mavis', Andrew McDonald as 'George', Giles Smith as 'Victor' and Barbara Wedel as 'Nurse'.

Directed by Declan Donnellan with designs by Nick Ormerod and lighting by Tanya Burns. Note: This production began with an extract "Love's Whirlwind" in which Judith Bliss had starred.

"Intrigue and whimsicality prove deadly partners. Sometimes the emphatic side of Declan Donnellan's production over-eggs the pudding. As in dialogue delivered to a not very funny tango sequence. But Miss McEwan is a riot and a joy as Judith, claiming the role as of right, and as a tipsy, bacchanalian revenge on the outmoded theatre as well as her guests. Cookham is obviously a hell-hole, and the antics of the play a privatised import of sentiment and melodrama to her own doorstep. There are brilliant performances by Sylvestra Le Touzel as an overemphatic, guffawing vamp - who uses sex as a sort of shrimping net and by Malcolm Sinclair as a rigidly bemused diplomat. The scene where the latter falls into an abyss of small talk with Cathryn Bradshaw's common little flapper is a real gem of timing and desperation. So don't catch a cold, catch Hay Fever!" The Daily Mail

"The great joy - and believe me joy is the right word - is that Geraldine McEwan makes a truly divine Mrs Bliss. With her corncrake voice and natural daffiness, she bats her lines off the walls with fabulous theatricality. It's like watching Greta Garbo acting after 15 sherries and a bottle of happy pills. Ms McEwan also adds the idea that Mrs Bliss is certifiable or at least, a couple of cheese straws short of a cocktail party. She gets lovely support from Malcolm Sinclair as the ineffably calm guest and Scott Handy playing Sandy Tyrell. Sylvestra Le Touzel is the hearty Myra Arundel and with Monica Dolan and Peter Blythe as the younger Blisses there's a first-rate ensemble with Cathryn Bradshaw, too, as the frightfully common guest on whom Coward vents his trademark snobbery. If Hay Fever is about anything it's a celebration of the sheer joy of behaving badly. It does it with style in the baronial splendour of Nick Ormerod's gothic set, while Declan Donnelan directs the action in the spirit of a revue. A comic Hay Fever to make your eyes run." The Daily Express

Hay Fever in London at the Savoy Theatre previewed from 9 June 1999, opened on 14 June 1999, and closed on 11 September 1999

Hay Fever: 8th London West End Revival 2006

Previewed 11 April 2006, Opened 19 April 2006, Closed 5 August 2006 at the Haymarket Theatre

The original cast featured Judi Dench as 'Judith Bliss' with Peter Bowles as 'David Bliss', Kim Medcalf as 'Sorel Bliss', Dan Stevens as 'Simon Bliss', Charles Edwards as 'Sandy Tyrell', Belinda Lang as 'Myra Arundel', William Chubb as 'Richard Greatham', Olivia Darnley as 'Jackie Coryton' and Lin Blakely as 'Clara'.

Directed by Peter Hall with designs by Simon Higlett and lighting by Paul Pyant. Note: Public preview performances where due to start on Thursday 6 April 2006, but unfortuntely due to the ill health of Judi Dench, the first four previews where cancelled. The first preview therefore took place on Monday 11 April 2006. Peter Bowles' West End credits include Ron Hutchinson's new play The Beau (Haymarket Theatre 2001).

"Judi Dench is such a national treasure that she has only to arch an eyebrow on stage for audiences to swoon. Fair enough. It's not every night you can witness an Academy Award-winning theatrical dame operating at the peak of her considerable powers - which is what you get in director Peter Hall's undemanding revival of this 1925 comedy. Unfortunately you don't get much else. While it may have been razor-sharp 81 years ago, time has blunted Noel Coward's slight story of a loopy family driving guests up the wall over a country house weekend... Still, with Dame Judi in sparkling form as Judith Bliss, the ex-actress nutty wife of novelist David and mother of their two self-indulgent children, the production provides the theatrical equivalent of pulling on a favourite sweater that's slightly threadbare at the elbows." The Sun

Eighty years have passed since Noel Coward's Hay Fever was first seen in the West End, but in Peter Hall's new production it comes up looking as fresh as ever... Judi Dench wonderfully captures the mix in Judith Bliss the family matriarch of vulnerability and arrogance, and Peter Bowles as her novelist husband is a perfect match. Like their children, these are people who only exist in each other's applause, mired in party games which can turn ugly. The comedy of Hay Fever is the comedy of character and perception. Belinda Lang leads for the visitors as the vamp Myra Arundel, originally invited by Simon, the artist son (Dan Stevens in a shrewd balance between temperament and camp), but far too sophisticated to be interested in the boy... The entire cast are first-rate in this classy revival but Dame Judi is simply superb." The Daily Express

"A delicious comedy of fabulously bad manners. In Peter Hall's new production, stylishly staged on Simon Higlett's handsome Arts and Crafts set, Dame Judi Dench gives yet another performance to be treasured. She's Judith Bliss, a West End thesp who has retired to the country but, having tried without success-to become upper-crust, she is planning a comeback. Not that Bliss has ever stopped acting. Her entire life is a sustained piece of outrageous theatricality in which, audience or not, she is centre-stage, demanding total attention. The one role for which she has no gift, however, is that of hostess. When it transpires that she and the rest of her monstrously egotistical family (philandering novelist husband, artist son, skittish daughter) have each, unbeknown to one another, invited a guest for the weekend, the visitors are subjected to near ritual humiliation... When the rest of the cast become as lethally funny as Dame Judi's spectacular show-off, this Hay Fever should make your eyes stream." The Mail on Sunday

Hayfever in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 11 April 2006, opened on 19 April 2006, and closed on 5 August 2006

Hay Fever: 9th London West End Revival 2012

Previewed 10 February 2012, Opened 23 February 2012, Closed 2 June 2012 at the Noel Coward Theatre

The original cast featured Lindsay Duncan as 'Judith Bliss' with Kevin McNally as 'David Bliss', Phoebe Waller-Bridge as 'Sorel Bliss', Freddie Fox as 'Simon Bliss', Sam Callis as 'Sandy Tyrell', Olivia Colman as 'Myra Arundel', Jeremy Northam as 'Richard Greatham', Amy Morgan as 'Jackie Coryton' and Jenny Galloway as 'Clara'.

Directed by Howard Davies with designs by Bunny Christie and lighting by Mark Henderson.

Lindsay Duncan's London theatre credits include 'Martha' in Jeremy Herrin's production of Polly Stenham's That Face at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007, and transfer to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre in 2008; 'Amanda Prynne' in Howard Davies' revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives at the Albery Theatre in 2001; 'Prue' in Harold Pinter's production of his play Celebration at the Almeida Theatre in 2000; 'Rose Hudd' in Harold Pinter's production of his play The Room at the Almeida Theatre in 2000; 'Rebecca' in Harold Pinter's production of his play Ashes to Ashes at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs (at the Ambassadors Theatre) in 1996; 'Donny' in Gregory Mosher's production of David Mamet's The Cryptogram at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1994; the title role in John Dove's revival of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Hampstead Theatre in 1988; 'Maggie' in Howard Davies' revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1988; 'Marquise de Merteuil' in the original cast of Howard Davies' production of Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Barbican Pit Theatre, and transfer to the West End's Ambassadors Theatre in 1986; 'Lady Nijo'/'Win' in Max Stafford-Clark's production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls at the Royal Court Theatre in 1982; and 'Dorcas Frey' in Jonathan Kent's production of David Hare's Plenty at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1978.

Kevin McNally's London theatre credits include 'Claudius' in Kenneth Branagh's revival of William Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2009; 'Lebedev' in Michael Grandage's revival of Ivanov at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2008; 'Bernard' in Matthew Warchus' revival of Marc Camoletti's Boeing Boeing at the Comedy Theatre in 2007; 'Alan Bennett (the writer)' in Nicholas Hytner's production of Alan Bennett's The Lady in The Van at the Queen's Theatre in 1999; 'Richard' in Terry Johnson's production of his comedy Dead Funny at the Savoy Theatre in 1995; 'Richard Roma' in Bill Bryden's production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at the Mermaid Theatre in 1986; and 'Don Parritt' in Bill Bryden's revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the National Theatre in 1980.

"Few actresses can resist the sumptuous lead role of Judith in Hay Fever, Noel Coward's gossamer-light and hilariously heartless comedy of appalling manners. Most recently I've seen Dame Judi Dench and Geraldine McEwan as the retired actress but full-time drama queen whose life is a sustained performance in which she must always be centre stage. A much more glamorous Lindsay Duncan eclipses both, not least because she can drawl huskily through flared nostrils about it being 'awfully sad for a woman of my temperament to have a grown-up daughter', and make one commiserate as well as laugh... Duncan is Judith to the manner born, magnificently affected, deliciously absurd. As are all the rest of the outrageously self-regarding Bliss family in Howard Davies's feverishly funny, nearflawless production... The play is conventionally set in a large hall, but Davies has boldly moved it into a shambolic studio-conversion where Judith's son Simon paints and hangs his nudes, nicely underlining the Bliss family's overriding mission for 'cultivating the artistic temperament' - and flaunting it... I emerged blissfully Blissed-out." The Mail on Sunday

"NoŽl Coward at the NoŽl Coward Theatre, with a crack cast: what could go wrong? One's health, apparently. When I saw Howard Davies's elegant production, the leading lady, Lindsay Duncan, was the one afflicted. Yet as Judith Bliss, the grande dame of theatre who has not-quite-retired to the shires, Duncan is as reliable as ever, dry and a little lethal as she hosts a weekend party... The outsiders who visit are always comic foils; in this case, though, it means that an actress like Olivia Colman (as Myra) feels underused. Coward fans will be pleased, and the production may yet have more fizz; but those hoping for a more anarchic take could be left hungry for more." The Sunday Times

Hayfever in London at the Noel Coward Theatre previewed from 10 February 2012, opened on 23 February 2012, and closed on 2 June 2012.

Hay Fever: 10th London West End Revival 2015

Previewed 29 April 2015, Opened 11 May 2015, Closed 1 August 2015 at the Duke of York's Theatre

The original cast featured Felicity Kendal as 'Judith Bliss' with Simon Shepherd as 'David Bliss', Alice Orr-Ewing as 'Sorel Bliss', Edward Franklin as 'Simon Bliss', Edward Killingback as 'Sandy Tyrrell', Sara Stewart as 'Myra Arundel', Michael Simkins as 'Richard Greatham', Celeste Dodwell as 'Jackie Coryton' and Mossie Smith as 'Clara'.

Directed by Lindsay Posner with designs by Peter McKintosh and lighting by Paul Pyant.

When this production opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in London in May 2015, Sam Marlowe in the Times commented how "Lindsay Posnerís Theatre Royal Bath production, although not adventurous, is an effervescent pleasure, with a starring performance from Felicity Kendal as the retired actress Judith Bliss that is breathtaking in its wit and precision... the production is never less than highly entertaining Ė and Kendal is sheer rapture." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that Felicity Kendal "hits the high comedy notes perfectly and is agreeably acerbic. She also does sensitive work on the play's potent undertone, namely the quiet ó and sometimes not so quiet ó desperation of a woman of a certain age who realises that her prime is past. This play needs to fizz continually and Lindsay Posnerís well-drilled production does just this; occasional drops in pace are noticeably rare," concluding that "this Hay Fever will make you sneeze with pleasure." Neil Norman in the Daily Express said that "after a sluggish start, the production kicks into comic gear in Act II... Felicity Kendal is terrific, bringing a credibility to Judith, singing like an ageing chanteuse or sliding down a banister in an emotional slump." Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph thought that "if the rest of the eight-strong cast had matched Felicity Kendal's full-beam interpretation, this would have been a breathtaking production... Kendal's lovely energy holds the evening together; but it is hard not to feel that the opportunity for a sharper, more dangerous production has been missed." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times wrote that "Felicity Kendal simply doesnít display the energy the role demands... there will always be another revival along in a while; this one is just too dignified." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail commented that "Lindsay Posner's production is charmingly old-fashioned... I have yet to see a really convincing production of this agreeably frivolous comedy, but this may be as good as it gets."

Hayfever in London at the Duke of York's Theatre previewed from 29 April 2015, opened on 11 May 2015, and closed on 1 August 2015.