Friday, August 4, 2023



Hayfever by NoelCoward.

 Directed by Joel Horwood. Assistant to director. Steph Roberts. Sound design Neville Pye and Scarlett Coster. Lighting design. Craig Muller. Costume design. Fiona Leach and Tanya Taylor. Set design. Joel Horwood. Stage Manager. Lucy van Dooren. ACT HUB. August 3-12 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Glenn Brighenti as Simon. Andrea Close as Judith and Holly Ross as Sorrel

ACT HUB’s production of Noel Coward’s Hayfever under the direction of Joel Horwood is deliriously funny. The performances by the enormously talented cast are spiffing and Coward’s wit skyrockets off the page in a sparkling display of dysfunctional hilarity. The play introduces the eccentric Bliss family who independently  invite various guests to their home in Berkshire for a weekend.  What ensues is a weekend of sheer mayhem as the Bliss family descend into a malaise of histrionics, arguments, jealousies and seductions. Mother Judith (Andrea Close) is a retired actress, still possessed with a yearning for the stage and given to an excess of melodrama and overdone theatrics. Adult children Sorrell (Holly Ross) and Simon (Glenn Brighenti) are spoilt, affected siblings given to childish antics. In a gender swap in this production, Steph Roberts plays novelist Frances, Judith’s wife. The parade of guests suddenly find themselves embroiled in the madness of the Bliss household  where ‘tis indeed folly to be wise. Myra (Tracy Noble) finds herself assailed by Simon. Richard (Joe Din) becomes beguiled by Judith’s advances. Sandy, played by Meaghan Stewart in another gender swap is seduced by Sorrel and Jackie, written originally to be played by a female actor, is played in this production by Robbie Haltiner. Alice Ferguson as the tetchy maid Clara completes the delightfully absurd array of characters.

Hayfever is a farce with a sharp instinct for a jibe at the English middle class. Horwood injects his production with imaginative stage business that keeps the action moving and erupting into moments of madness, such as the word game that opens the second act and ends in tantrum or Jackie’s attempt to cure Sandy of her hiccups. Harmer’s performance shows him to be a natural clown. Close excels as the faded star of the stage clinging to a vanished glory. Coward’s insight into the ridiculous nature of artifice is wonderfully captured by a cast that is obviously revelling in the play’s absurdity. 

One may quibble with Horwood’s decision to swap gender but it is worth remembering that Coward’s earlier play Semi Monde was not licenced because of the introduction of homosexual characters. Horwood has kept very much to the period with Neville Pye and Scarlett Coster’s sound design and Fiona Leach and Tanya Taylor’s costumes design but Horwood’s casting does give the play a contemporary twist, while retaining what is essentially universal eccentricity among the British middle class.  

Tracy Noble as Myra. Glenn Brighenti as Simon 

I expect that as the season progresses ACT HUB’s production of Coward’s timeless comedy will discover the finer finesse of the Master’s comedy of manners. Notwithstanding  the force of opening night adrenalin, this production of Hayfever offers audiences a night of  hilarious comedy, first rate performances and very clever debut direction from Horwood. Like all good satire, the play is not without its sting which only adds to the enjoyment at the expense of the abnormal Bliss family and their comical guests. Coward’s self confessed “talent to amuse” will have you splitting your sides right to the moment that the metaphorical curtain falls.

Photos by Photox Canberra Photography Services.