Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Hay Fever

Thank you for the "bless you" you just bestowed upon me, but I don't actually mean that sort of Hay Fever.  I'm incredibly lucky in that I have never suffered from it - touch wood - and seeing how miserable it makes some of my friends and family, I'm quite happy living life without it.

I'm not talking about the Hay Fever that makes you miserable.  I'm talking about the Hay Fever that makes you happy!  1920's bohemian farce happy!
I promise you, the audience at least was laughing.

Hay Fever is a Noel Coward play and the latest offering from the Canterbury Players vault.  We performed it in June and, joy of joys, all I had to do for a change was take some pictures!  I was not involved at all.  The Demon Gin was though - this was her directorial debut and I personally think she handled it spiffingly.  Her severely depleted gin supplies may tell a different story.
Steve was heavily involved though - he, along with Derek and Nick, managed to build us one of the best sets I think we have seen in a while.  It looked spectacular, even if it was a slightly more rushed job than normal due to a let down with the company we thought we could rent a set off.  The finished product was spectacular though and in my humble opinion, much better than the one we would have hired.  For starters, it had the right number of entrances and exits needed (5 in total).
So Hay Fever?  Ready for the picture story book as is now traditional on this blog?
At the country pile mansion of the dreadfully bohemian Bliss family, events are starting to get a bit chaotic.  Sorel and Simon, the grown up children of the family, are squabbling as normal and during the course of their discussion realise that both of them have invited guests to stay for the weekend.  A fight breaks out over whose guest gets to stay in the Japanese Room.
During the course of their argument, which is interjected with lots of affectionate phrases, dramatic outbursts and reasonable discourse, we learn that Sorel has a desire to better herself, to make guests feel welcome and that she feels that their family is odd.  We get a glimpse into the workings of the family - the conversation is flighty, never staying on one subject for very long and the outbursts are melodramatic exaggerations.
During the course of the conversation, Judith, the matriarch of the Bliss family enters.  If the children are melodramatic, Judith is insufferable with her absent-minded theatricality.  She is a retired stage actress who longs to return to her doting audiences (the fact that they haven't written begging her to come back is a particularly sore point).
Upon learning that their mother has also invited a guest for the weekend, a heated argument breaks out amongst the three, over the individuals who have been invited and who gets to sleep in the Japanese room.
The noise causes the father, David to enter the room.  David is a novelist who is working on his latest book.  He learns what all the hullabaloo is about, drinks his tea and calmly informs his wife and children that he has invited a sweet, but rather stupid flapper to the house for the weekend so he can study her.
She will be sleeping in the Japanese room and on that bombshell, leaves the rest of the family to process the news and anticipate the looming weekend of horror they each imagine in front of them.  After the children's tantrums Judith admonishes that they must all be "very brave".
Judith announces that she has decided to return to the theatre, possibly reviving one of her old hits, Love's Whirlwind, despite the fact that it is a dreadful play.  She, Sorel and Simon amuse themselves by acting out a melodramatic passage from the play, beginning with the words "Is this a game?  Yes, and a game that must be played to the end!".
These few lines are repeated throughout the play, to the utter bewilderment of their guests.  Just as they are in full swing they are interrupted, much to the anger of Simon and Sorel, by the arrival of Sandy Tyrell.  A sportsman and a big fan of Judith's, he is her guest for the weekend.  Simon and Sorel leave to get ready for the arrival of their guests, but not before being incredibly rude to Sandy.
Alone with Sandy, Judith flirts with him outrageously while he hangs on her every word.  His bubble is somewhat bursts after a passing comment that her husband is not actually dead as he had thought but instead upstairs and writing his novel.
Myra is the next guest to arrive.  A younger rival of Judith's and very vampish, she has been invited to stay by Simon.  She clearly has little time for the particular quirks and foibles of the Bliss family and imparts a few pointed jibes in Judith's direction. Upon her arrival Judith goes into the garden with Sandy.  Myra, alone with Simon, blows hot and cold with him, first leading him on then announcing that she recently had dinner with another man.  Simon reacts like a child, following tantrums with fawning adoration. 
The last to arrive are Richard, a diplomat and Sorel's guest and Jackie, David's guest.  Upon their arrival Simon drags Myra out into the garden, leaving both Richard and Jackie alone in the parlour as they await their hosts. 
The waiting is painful as the two make excruciatingly polite small talk with each other.  There is clearly an intelligence gap between the two.  The pauses between them become longer as they fight for things to stay.  At one point Judith breezes through the room, picks up a sun hat and breezes back out again, humming slightly, without acknowledging either of the two guests sitting awkwardly.  Finally it occurs to them to ring a bell for assistance as they have seen no one.  They ring the bell and wait expectantly, staring at it.  No one comes.
Eventually Sorel comes running downstairs, full of remorse at the fact that Richard has been kept waiting.  She reluctantly shows Jackie the way to David's writing room, then sits and attempts to entertain Richard.  She is full of nervous energy and cannot stick with one idea long enough to see it through.  Richard, whilst a little bemused by the situation, is gracious and clearly fascinated with her.
After Richard has politely fetched the luggage in for all the guests ('assisted' by a relatively inept and over enthusiastic Sorel), the remainder of the guests and the Bliss family join Sorel and Richard in the parlour for afternoon tea.
Conversation is again stilted and awkward amongst the entire party, with Richard and Myra frequently starting new topics of conversation at the same moment as each other and then both falling quiet.  The scene ends in total, agonizingly awkward silence.
The next scene is the same day, following dinner.  The family insists that everyone needs to join in a parlour game, a variety of charades where one person must guess the adverb being acted out by the others.  Sorel volunteers to guess but the Bliss family become frustrated when the guests appear to be incapable of performing to their standards.
As the game breaks up, tempers fare and arguments break out amongst the Bliss's and some of their guests.  Simon drags Jackie out into the garden, Sorel drags Sandy into the library and David, after arguing with Judith, pointedly invites Myra for a walk outside.  She accepts with a triumphant glance thrown back at Judith and swaggers out into the garden with David.
Left alone with Richard, who is awkwardly attempting to ignore everything he has just witnessed, Judith turns her attentions to him.  She flirts with him, sings for him and admires his cigarette case.  He is clearly infatuated and kisses her quickly.
Judith reacts as though she has been shot, screeching out the effect that this will have on David and acting as though she and Richard have been conducting a long, sordid affair.  She completely takes Richard aback when she starts to talk about breaking the news to David.
She orders Richard to wait for her in the Summer House so she can talk to her husband.  Richard quickly leaves, at which point Judith immediately calms down and with a smile on her face, heads to the library.  There, a second screech is ripped from her throat as she discovers Sorel and Sandy kissing.  Judith launches into another melodramatic tirade and then graciously 'gives' Sandy to Sorel.  Sorel, clearly playing along with her mother's histrionics, accepts as graciously whilst Sandy is hard pushed to get a word in edgeways.
Judith leaves and Sorel explains to Sandy that it is all just play acting - that everyone in the house has to play up to Mother.  Much relieved that he is not actually engaged to Sorel, Sandy takes her back into the library.
David and Myra enter from the garden, David delighted that he has found such a pair of willing ears in Myra.  Myra confesses to him that the only reason she accepted Simon's invitation to come to the house was because she knew that David would be here.  The two flirt, argue and then kiss, at which point Judith enters.
Judith, naturally, has an extreme, overly dramatic reaction to what she sees.  She acts the martyr, clearly reveling in the role and releases David from all his obligations to her.  A delighted David promises that she will continue to receive 50% of all his profits and exclaims that he and Myra are now free to marry.  A clearly alarmed Myra trys to halt the rapidly escalating events in front of her, but, like Sandy before her, cannot get a word in edgeways.
The only thing that saves Myra is the dramatic entrance by Simon, who comes running in from the garden violently and announces that he and Jackie are engaged, followed by an extremely shell-shocked looking Jackie.
Sorel and Sandy come running back in from the library, Judith enters yet another bout of theatrics and complete pandemonium breaks out.  In the midst of it all, Richard comes back from the garden and, utterly confused by what he sees happening in front of him, asks 'Is this a game?'.  Simon, Sorel and Judith immediately seize on this and launch into the scene from Love's Whirlwind that they were playing out earlier, to the absolute bafflement of their guests whilst David laughs uproariously.  The scene ends.

The next morning a very nervous Sandy creeps down the stairs, clearly desperate not to wake any members of the family.  He serves himself some breakfast and gulps the food down as quickly as possible.  Upon hearing a noise, he grab a slice of toast and runs into the library.
A cool, calm and collected Jackie walks down the stairs.  She serves herself some food, takes her seat at the table, and promptly bursts into tears.  Upon hearing her cry, Sandy comes out of the library.  He learns that Jackie has no idea what happened last night.  She was walking in the garden with Simon, he suddenly kissed her out of the blue then went running into the house announcing that they were engaged, something she fervently hopes isn't the case.  They talk about how crazy the entire family is and how utterly miserable they both are staying here.  Jackie slept in the Japanese room and hated it as the bed was Japanese style on the floor and she had nightmares about the dragons on the wall.  Sandy gets an attack of the hiccups and Jackie attempts to help him cure them with various techniques.  Upon hearing footsteps, they both retreat to the Library with a cup of coffee that Sandy needs to drink from the wrong side of.
Richard is the next to come downstairs.  He checks the barometer on the wall and accidentally knocks it down.  He hides it under the chaise.  He is joined by Myra, who is the most calm and collected of the four guests, but still anxious to leave.  Jackie and Sandy come out of the Library after breaking a coffee cup much to the ire of Clara, the much put-upon house maid (previously Judith's dresser in the theatre).  Clara informs the party that they have missed the first train and that there wasn't another one for a good few hours.  Sandy notes that he has his motor car with him and agrees to drive them all back to London immediately.  They all go upstairs to pack.
Judith comes down. Clara hands her the Sunday papers and she begins reading aloud to Sorel what the gossip columns have to say about her.  Simon shares his most recent drawing with his mother and sister, and then David enters, brandishing his finished novel and offers to read them the final chapter.
Just before David sits down, Sandy comes running down the stairs, pauses when he sees the family and then runs out of the front door.  Judith remarks that she 'seems to know that boy's face'.  The rest of the family shrug off the occurrence and turn their attention to David who begins reading aloud.  Immediately a full scale argument breaks out over a minor geography detail of Paris and its accuracy within David's novel.  Insults are hurled at each other, with David exclaiming that the children's behaviour is so dreadful he is not even sure if they are his.
The family are so engrossed in their argument that they don't notice the four guests sneaking down the stairs and running out of the front door.  The sound of the door slamming shut, an engine starting and a car driving away finally alerts them to the fact that their guests have all gone.
After Sorel notes that they didn't say goodbye, Judith comments 'How rude' and David adds that 'people really do behave in the most extraordinary manner these days'.  The Bliss' return happily to David manuscript, with David making the geographical amendment to please Judith, and Judith announcing to David that she is returning to the theatre, to the delight of the rest of her family.  They are clearly content in their everyday family life. 
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