Hay Fever

The Noël Coward Collection
BBC Video
(2008)

Cedric Messina's star-studded 1984 version of Coward's classic comedy of overblown stage folk appropriately provides 90 minutes of sheer bliss.

He has been lucky enough to cast a team of TV favourites who together bring the best out of a play that is always fun.

The home team is headed by Margot and Jerry from The Good Life, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington. Miss Keith is playing a retired grand dame of the stage, Judith Bliss or perhaps to be more accurate, is playing herself in a role where this works a treat. Eddington is her husband David, a self-important writer of cheap crime novels.

The family is completed by Phoebe Nicholls' 19-year-old Sorrel Bliss (what a name), a real femme fatale chip off the old block, and her older brother Simon (Michael Siberry) who, like the rest of the family, enjoys nothing more than behaving rudely.

The play centres on a weekend party at the house in Cookham to which each has invited a wholly inappropriate guest. The fun occurs as this rum bunch of outsiders is loved and loathed by a Bliss each in act one, and then swapped over like unwanted Christmas gifts to be wooed with unmerciful glee by another family member in the second act.

By then, they have all begun to revert to type. Benjamin Whitrow plays a boring diplomatist; Patricia Hodge a scathing society hanger-on; Susan Wooldridge a shy and gormless young thing; and Michael Cochrane the kind of vacuous young man who was probably something rather successful in the city. The cast is completed by Joan Sims as the family skivvy who has ideas above her station, having spent many years as the famous actress' dresser.

Around them, their hosts weave comic rings with theatrical delight in a hilarious game that nobody else gets. By the end, the visitors are not only running scared but running off with every prospect of a marriage or two resulting from the collective relief that they will enjoy following their escape from this hell in Stanley Spencer land.

The comedy is ripe and with a universally excellent and highly appropriate cast, this version of Hay Fever is well worth investing in as it is the kind of DVD that one could watch again and again.

At present, it seems that fans will have to save up for the whole of The Noel Coward Collection to get it, which may be worthwhile but might seem to some a little excessive. It is to be hoped that at some point soon, the BBC might seek to reissue some highlights, perhaps for example pairing this play with Miss Keith in Private Lives on a single disc.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher