Hay Fever is a comic play written by Noël Coward in 1924. Its first production was in the West End in 1925 with Marie Tempest as Judith Bliss. A cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, the play is set in an English country house in the 1920s, and deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and their outlandish behaviour when they each invite a guest to spend the weekend. The self-centred behaviour of the hosts finally drives their guests to flee while the Blisses are so engaged in a family row that they do not notice their guests' furtive departure.
The play's original production opened in London in 1925 and ran for 337 performances. Coward wrote the piece with Tempest in mind for the central role of Judith. In later productions the part has been played by actresses including Constance Collier, Edith Evans, Constance Cummings, Rosemary Harris, Judi Dench, Geraldine McEwan and Felicity Kendal. Hay Fever has been continually revived in Britain, the US and elsewhere, and has been adapted frequently for radio and television.
In 1921 Coward first visited New York, hoping to interest American producers in his plays. During that summer he became a friend of the playwright Hartley Manners and his wife, the eccentric actress Laurette Taylor. Coward wrote, "It was inevitable that someone should eventually utilise portions of this eccentricity in a play, and I am only grateful to Fate that no guest of the Hartley Manners thought of writing Hay Fever before I did".Coward's biographer Philip Hoare and others also note elements of Evangeline Astley Cooper – an English eccentric of whom the young Coward was a protégé – in the central character, Judith Bliss. The two women reacted very differently to Coward's caricature of them. Taylor was offended (either by Coward's Judith or the overplaying of the role in the Broadway production, or both), and Cooper was much amused.
Coward wrote the play in three days in 1924, at first giving it the title Still Life before adopting Hay Fever prior to the first production.He intended the star role, Judith, for the actress Marie Tempest, "whom I revered and adored". Though she found it amusing, she thought it not substantial enough for a whole evening, but changed her mind after the success of Coward's The Vortex later in 1924.
Coward introduces one of his signature theatrical devices at the end of the play, where the four guests tiptoe out as the curtain falls, leaving disorder behind them – a device that he also used in various forms in Present Laughter , Private Lives and Blithe Spirit.
Hay Fever opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on 8 June 1925, directed by Coward, and transferred to the larger Criterion Theatre on 7 September 1925; it ran for 337 performances.Coward remembered in 1964 that the notices "were amiable and well-disposed although far from effusive. It was noted, as indeed it has been today, that the play had no plot and that there were few if any 'witty' lines." Hay Fever opened the same year at the Maxine Elliott Theatre in New York; the star, Laura Hope Crews, was accused of over-acting, not all the supporting cast were competent, and the production closed after 49 performances.
The original casts in London and New York were:
|Roles||Ambassadors Theatre, London||Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York|
|Sorel Bliss||Helen Spencer||Frieda Inescort|
|Simon Bliss||Robert Andrews||Gavin Muir|
|Clara||Minnie Rayner||Alice Belmore Cliffe|
|Judith Bliss||Marie Tempest||Laura Hope Crews|
|David Bliss||W. Graham Brown||Harry Davenport|
|Richard Greatham||Athole Stewart||George Thorpe|
|Sandy Tyrell||Patrick Susands||Reginald Sheffield|
|Myra Arundel||Hilda Moore||Phyllis Joyce|
|Jackie Coryton||Ann Trevor||Margot Lester|
The action is set in the Hall of David Bliss's house at Cookham, Berkshire, by the River Thames.
Sorel and Simon Bliss, a brother and sister, exchange artistic and bohemian dialogue. Judith, their mother, displays the absent-minded theatricality of a retired star actress, and David, their father, a novelist, is concentrating on finishing his latest book. Each of the four members of the Bliss family, without consulting the others, has invited a guest for the weekend. Judith announces that she has decided to return to the stage in one of her old hits, Love's Whirlwind. She and Sorel and Simon amuse themselves acting out a melodramatic passage from the play beginning, "Is this a game?" "Yes, and a game that must be played to the finish!"They are interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell.
Clara, Judith's former dresser and now her housekeeper, opens the door to the first of the four guests, Sandy Tyrell, a sporty fan of Judith's. The next arrival is the vampish Myra Arundel, whom Simon has invited. The other two guests arrive together: Richard Greatham, a diplomat, and Jackie Coryton, a brainless but good-hearted young flapper. Tea is served. Conversation is stilted and eventually grinds to a halt. The scene ends in total and awkward silence.
The family insists that everyone should join in a parlour game, a variety of charades in which one person must guess the adverb being acted out by the others. The Blisses are in their element, but the guests flounder and the game breaks up. Simon and Jackie exit to the garden, Sorel drags Sandy into the library, and David takes Myra outside.
Left alone with Richard, Judith flirts with him, and when he chastely kisses her she theatrically over-reacts as though they were conducting a serious affair. She nonplusses Richard by talking of breaking the news to David. She in turn is nonplussed to discover Sandy and Sorel kissing in the library. That too has been mere flirtation, but both Judith and Sorel enjoy themselves by exaggerating it. Judith gives a performance nobly renouncing her claim on Sandy, and exits. Sorel explains to Sandy that she was just playing the theatrical game for Judith's benefit, as "one always plays up to Mother in this house; it's a sort of unwritten law." They leave.
David and Myra enter. They too indulge in a little light flirtation, at the height of which Judith enters and finds them kissing. She makes a theatrical scene, with which David dutifully plays along. Simon rushes in violently, announcing that he and Jackie are engaged. Sorel and Sandy enter from the library, Judith goes into yet another bout of over-theatrical emoting. In the ensuing uproar, Richard asks "Is this a game?" Judith, Sorel and Simon seize on this cue from Love's Whirlwind and trot out the melodramatic dialogue as they had in Act I. David is overcome with laughter and the uncomprehending guests are dazed and aghast as Judith ends the scene by falling to the floor as if in a faint.
A breakfast table has been laid in the hall. Sandy enters and begins eating nervously. At the sound of someone approaching he escapes into the library. Jackie enters, helps herself to some breakfast and bursts into tears. Sandy comes out and they discuss how uncomfortable they were the night before and how mad the Bliss family are. When they hear people approaching, they both retreat to the library. Myra and Richard now enter and begin breakfast. Their conversation mirrors that of Sandy and Jackie, who emerge from the library to join them. All four decide that they are going to return to London without delay. Sandy agrees to drive them in his motor car. They go upstairs to collect their things.
Judith comes down, asks Clara for the Sunday papers and begins reading aloud what the gossip columns say about her. The rest of her family enter. David proposes to read them the final chapter of his novel. Immediately, a minor detail about the geography of Paris is blown into a full-scale family row, with everyone talking at once about whether the Rue Saint-Honoré does or does not connect with the Place de la Concorde and hurling insults at each other. They are so wrapped up in their private row that they do not notice when the four visitors tiptoe down the stairs and out of the house. The Blisses are only momentarily distracted when the slam of the door alerts them to the flight of their guests. Judith comments, "How very rude!" and David adds, "People really do behave in the most extraordinary manner these days." Then, with no further thought of their four tormented guests, they happily return to David's manuscript and to what passes for their normal family life.
The first London revival was in 1933 at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Constance Collier as Judith.In 1941 the piece was revived at the Vaudeville Theatre in a repertory series of English comedies.
A 1964 production at the Old Vic was the National Theatre Company's first production by a living author.It was directed by Coward, and starred Edith Evans as Judith. The rest of the cast comprised Derek Jacobi as Simon, Maggie Smith as Myra, Barbara Hicks as Clara, Anthony Nicholls as David, Robert Stephens as Sandy, Robert Lang as Richard, and Lynn Redgrave as Jackie. After being invited to direct the production, Coward wrote, "I am thrilled and flattered and frankly a little flabbergasted that the National Theatre should have had the curious perceptiveness to choose a very early play of mine and to give it a cast that could play the Albanian telephone directory." The last London revival in Coward's lifetime was at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1968, with Celia Johnson as Judith and a cast including Roland Culver, Simon Williams, Richard Vernon and Prunella Scales.
A revival at the Queen's Theatre in 1983 starred Penelope Keith as Judith, with a cast including Moray Watson, Donald Pickering and Abigail McKern.A 1992 revival at the Albery Theatre starred Maria Aitken as Judith, with a cast including Abigail Cruttenden, Maria Charles, John Standing, Carmen du Sautoy, Christopher Godwin and Sara Crowe. A 1999 Savoy Theatre cast starred Geraldine McEwan as Judith, with Monica Dolan, Stephen Mangan, Peter Blythe, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Malcolm Sinclair, and Cathryn Bradshaw. The 2006 Haymarket Theatre casts included Kim Medcalf as Sorel, Dan Stevens as Simon, Judi Dench as Judith, Peter Bowles as David, Charles Edwards as Sandy, and Belinda Lang as Myra. The following UK tour, in 2007, cast Stephanie Beacham as Judith, Christopher Timothy as David, William Ellis as Simon, Christopher Naylor as Sandy, and Andrew Hall as Richard.
A 2012 revival at the Noël Coward Theatre included in the cast Lindsay Duncan as Judith, Jeremy Northam as Richard, Kevin McNally as David, Olivia Colman as Myra, Sam Callis as Sandy, Freddie Fox as Simon, Amy Morgan as Jackie, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Sorrel, and Jenny Galloway as Clara.
While the play continued its first West End run, Eva Moore headed the cast in a touring production, which played to what The Stage called "phenomenal business" around Britain.Phyllis Calvert headed the cast in a UK tour of Hay Fever in 1975. A production directed by Michael Blakemore opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in 1980 starring Constance Cummings as Judith. In 1988 Googie Withers starred in a revival at the Chichester Festival. Dora Bryan played Judith in a UK tour in 1992. A production by Alan Strachan opened at the Theatr Clwyd in October 1992 and transferred to the West End the following month (see above). In 2010, Celia Imrie played Judith at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, succeeded later in the run by Nichola McAuliffe. In 2014 Felicity Kendal starred as Judith in a UK tour with Simon Shepherd as David, Sara Stewart as Myra, Celeste Dodwell as Jackie, and Alice Orr-Ewing as Sorrel.
Collier played Judith in a 1931 revival at Avon Theatre in New York.In a 1970 revival at the Helen Hayes Theatre, New York, the cast included Roberta Maxwell as Sorel, Sam Waterston as Simon, Sudie Bond as Clara, Shirley Booth as Judith, John Williams as David, John Tillinger as Sandy, Marian Mercer as Myra, and Carole Shelley as Jackie.
A 1985 production at the Music Box Theatre in New York had a cast including Mia Dillon as Sorel, Robert Joy as Simon, Barbara Bryne as Clara, Rosemary Harris as Judith, Roy Dotrice as David, Campbell Scott as Sandy, Carolyn Seymour as Myra, Charles Kimbrough as Richard, and Deborah Rush.
The play was translated into French with the title "Week End", and given at the Théâtre de la Potinière, Paris in 1928.It was well received by audiences and critics; one of the latter wrote that there was "a suggestion of Molière" about it. The first professional production of the play in Australia was given by the Allan Wilkie and Hunter-Watts company at the Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne in February 1931, with Wilkie and Hunter-Watts as David and Judith. The Melbourne Argus commented, "The situations are handled deliciously, and the dialogue, highly polished and clever, is at times brutally cynical ... we leave the theatre wondering between our chuckles whether we have any genuine emotions left".
2014 revivals included one at the Stratford Festival, Canada, with Lucy Peacock as Judith, Cynthia Dale as Myra, and Tyrone Savage as Sandy.
The initial notices in the British press were moderately favourable. Coward told a theatre colleague, Basil Dean, "I'm very surprised it hasn't irritated the Press more – some of them actually seem to have been amused by it."Herbert Farjeon in The Sphere said "Hay Fever begins admirably, tails off, picks up, is disappointing because it is not better, and yet is pleasing because it is so bright". The critic in The Tatler thought that on the whole Hay Fever was "most amusing … there is no real plot … but it is very funny". The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News found the play "the best of fun … Let us hope Mr Coward will supply more goods of this quality". The Times said the play was "all, as usual, Mr Coward's fun. All the better fun, be it added, for being punctuated, as usual, with Mr Coward's wit", but thought it was essentially a vehicle for Marie Tempest's "brilliantly comic acting". The Daily Telegraph thought the first act promised more than the two later acts could deliver, and that although Coward's touch had not deserted him, "this particular jest does not quite come off", but it was a "very amusing comedy … so light and airy". Reviewers in The Daily News and The Tatler both commented that Coward's choice of title seemed inexplicable. In 2010 The Times's theatre critic, though offering no firm explanation, commented, "In some productions one's eyes can stream, though only with laughter".
After the first Broadway production The New York Times observed, "If Mr Coward had packed his play with half the humor the actors bring to their parts, Hay Fever might be steadily amusing; at present it has many colorless moments". Six years later, after the first New York revival, the same paper said that the play was "theatrical satire, and infernally delicate and accomplished. It is dry, subtle, mettlesome comedy, and it is enormously entertaining".After the 1985 revival opened, the paper said:
Coward himself was aware that the play lacked obvious witticisms. He commented:
In a study of Coward's plays, published in 1982, John Lahr called Hay Fever "the first and the finest of his major plays".In 2014 Michael Billington wrote of a new production, "I found myself wondering why, 90 years after it was written, Noël Coward's comedy still proves so astonishingly durable. I suspect it is because it combines astute observation with ironclad technique".
The play was broadcast on radio in 1937 in both the US (CBS Radio) and Britain (BBC radio, with Marie Tempest in her original stage role.)In later BBC radio adaptations, Judith has been played by Athene Seyler (1952), Peggy Ashcroft (1971), and Judi Dench (1993).
Hay Fever was the first of Coward's plays to be televised: an NBC production in 1939 starred Isobel Elsom as Judith.A UK television production in 1960 in ITV's Play of the Week series featured Edith Evans as Judith Bliss and Maggie Smith as Jackie Coryton. This version is not known to have survived. The Times reviewed this broadcast, calling Hay Fever "Mr Noel Coward's best play ... one of the most perfectly engineered comedies of the century." Other members of the television cast were Pamela Brown, George Devine, Paul Eddington and Richard Wattis. Evans and Smith later played in the stage production of Hay Fever under the author's direction in the National Theatre Company's revival in 1964 with Smith switching from the ingénue role of Jackie to that of the vampish Myra. Another lost production of the play in the BBC's Play of the Month series was transmitted in 1968. This featured Lucy Fleming as Sorel, Ian McKellen as Simon, Celia Johnson as Judith, Dennis Price as David, Richard Briers as Sandy, Anna Massey as Myra, Charles Gray as Richard, and Vickery Turner as Jackie.
The BBC recorded another television production, which was first shown in the UK during Christmas 1984. This version stars Penelope Keith as Judith, Eddington as David, Patricia Hodge as Myra, Michael Siberry as Simon, Phoebe Nicholls as Sorel and Benjamin Whitrow as Richard.
Hay Fever was first published in 1925 in the "Contemporary British Dramatists" series issued by the publisher Ernest Benn. Unlike some of Coward's other plays it had no dedicatee,but in 1964, when Heinemann published a new edition with an introduction by the author, marking the National Theatre revival, Coward dedicated it to his long-time secretary, Lorn Lorraine.
Tonight at 8.30 is a cycle of ten one-act plays by Noël Coward, presented in London in 1936 and in New York in 1936–1937, with the author and Gertrude Lawrence in the leading roles. The plays are mostly comedies, but three, The Astonished Heart, Shadow Play and Still Life, are serious. Four of the comedies include songs, with words and music by Coward.
The Noël Coward Theatre, formerly known as the Albery Theatre, is a West End theatre in St. Martin's Lane in the City of Westminster, London. It opened on 12 March 1903 as the New Theatre and was built by Sir Charles Wyndham behind Wyndham's Theatre which was completed in 1899. The building was designed by the architect W. G. R. Sprague with an exterior in the classical style and an interior in the Rococo style.
Present Laughter is a comic play written by Noël Coward in 1939 but not produced until 1942 because the Second World War began while it was in rehearsal, and the British theatres closed. The title is drawn from a song in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that urges carpe diem. The play has been frequently revived in Britain, the US and beyond.
Fallen Angels is a comedy by the English playwright Noël Coward. It opened at the Globe Theatre, London on 21 April 1925 and ran until 29 August. The central theme of two wives admitting to premarital sex and contemplating adultery met hostility from the office of the official theatre censor, the Lord Chamberlain, and the necessary licence was granted only after the personal intervention of the Chamberlain.
Nude with Violin is a play in three acts by Noël Coward. A light comedy of manners, the play is a satire on "Modern Art", criticism, artistic pretension and the value placed on art. It is set in Paris in 1956 and portrays the effect on the family and associates of a famous artist when it is revealed after his death that he painted none of the pictures signed by him and sold for large sums. The action is mostly under the discreet control of the artist's valet, Sebastien, who manipulates events to bring about a happy ending for all the characters.
Alan Norton Fletcher Webb was an English actor. He was principally known as a stage performer, but made several film and television appearances. He seldom played leading roles, but was frequently cast in important character parts. He created roles in plays by A. A. Milne, Noël Coward, T. S. Eliot and other contemporary playwrights.
Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor, and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".
The Vortex is a play in three acts by the English writer and actor Noël Coward. The play depicts the sexual vanity of a rich, ageing beauty, her troubled relationship with her adult son, and drug abuse in British society circles after the First World War. The son's cocaine habit is seen by many critics as a metaphor for homosexuality, then taboo in Britain. Despite, or because of, its scandalous content for the time, the play was Coward's first great commercial success.
We Were Dancing is a short comic play in two scenes by Noël Coward. It is one of ten short plays that make up Tonight at 8.30, a cycle written to be performed in groups of three plays across three evenings. The original production, starring Coward and Gertrude Lawrence played in a pre-London tour, and then the West End, and finally New York, in 1935–1937. We Were Dancing has been revived periodically and was adapted for the cinema in 1942.
Hands Across the Sea, described by the author as "a comedy of bad manners", is a one-act play by Noël Coward, one of ten that make up Tonight at 8.30, a cycle written to be performed across three evenings. One-act plays were unfashionable in the 1920s and 30s, but Coward was fond of the genre and conceived the idea of a set of short pieces to be played across several evenings. The actress most closely associated with him was Gertrude Lawrence, and he wrote the plays as vehicles for them both.
Shadow Play, described by the author as "a musical fantasy", is a one-act play by Noël Coward, one of ten that make up Tonight at 8.30, a cycle written to be performed across three evenings. Short plays were unfashionable in the 1920s and 30s, but Coward was fond of the genre and conceived the idea of a set of brief pieces to be played across several evenings. The actress most closely associated with him was Gertrude Lawrence, and he wrote the ten plays as vehicles for them both.
Still Life is a short play in five scenes by Noël Coward, one of ten plays that make up Tonight at 8.30, a cycle written to be performed across three evenings. One-act plays were unfashionable in the 1920s and 30s, but Coward was fond of the genre and conceived the idea of a set of short pieces to be played across several evenings. The actress most closely associated with him was Gertrude Lawrence, and he wrote the plays as vehicles for them both.
Family Album, described as "a Victorian comedy with music", is a short comic play in one scene by Noël Coward. It is one of ten short plays that make up Tonight at 8.30, a cycle written to be performed in groups of three plays across three evenings. The original production, starring Coward and Gertrude Lawrence played in a pre-London tour, and then the West End, and finally New York, in 1935–1937. Family Album has been revived periodically and has been adapted for television.
Easy Virtue is a three-act play by Noël Coward, written in 1924 when he was 25 years old. The play depicts the conflict that arises within a conventional upper-middle-class household when the only son of the family marries a glamorous divorcée.
The Queen Was in the Parlour: a romance in three acts is a play by the English writer Noël Coward. Although written in 1922 it was not produced until 24 August 1926, when it was premiered at the St Martin's Theatre.
Home Chat is a play by Noël Coward, written in 1927 and presented in London in the same year. It depicts the domestic affairs of a married couple and their family and friends, and revolves around an unjustified suspicion that the principal female character has committed adultery.
Come Into the Garden, Maud is a comedy, one of the trilogy of plays by Noël Coward known collectively as Suite in Three Keys. The other two, A Song at Twilight and Shadows of the Evening are more serious in tone. All three plays are set in the same suite in a luxury hotel in Switzerland.
This is a list of works and appearances by the English playwright, actor, singer and songwriter Noël Coward.
Shadows of the Evening is a short play in two scenes, which together with A Song at Twilight and Come into the Garden, Maud forms a trilogy by Noël Coward known collectively as Suite in Three Keys, all set in the same luxury suite of a Swiss hotel. Shadows of the Evening is the most serious of the three in tone and theme. It depicts the relationship of a terminally ill man with his mistress and his estranged wife.
Suite in Three Keys is a trilogy of plays by Noël Coward. It comprises two short plays – Shadows of the Evening and Come Into the Garden, Maud – designed to be given as a double bill, and a stand-alone full-length play, A Song at Twilight. They are all set in the same suite in a luxury Swiss hotel and have a single character common to all three: the Italian waiter. The other characters are British, American and German hotel guests or visitors.