Hay Fever (Lyceum: 10th March -1st April ’17)

Rosemary Boyle, Susan Wooldridge, Charlie Archer. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

“Susan Wooldridge is sensational as Judith Bliss”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

The overarching theme in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is one of contrast: theatre vs real life; keeping up appearances vs showing your true colours. And while capturing a lot of the inherent comedy in such situations, this latest production from the Lyceum Theatre Company and the Citizens Theatre, for me, goes one contrast too far in creating a production of paradox which ends up being somehow less great than the sum of its parts.

Without the traditional curtain opening at the start of the show, Tom Piper’s stark and stripped back set, which exposes a lot of the “backstage” area, is immediately visible. On first impression, it feels cheap and unfinished, leading me to worry I’ve walked into the theatre a week too soon. It does, however, create a rugged bohemian mood, which seems to make a lot more sense as the piece progresses.

When the action begins, much of it early on feels quite forced, with the first scene in particular a mass of very obvious stage directions with vases, cushions and sitting down. Thankfully, Rosemary Boyle as Sorrel allays many of my fears by capturing that much-needed sense of balance between theatricality and reality, with charming facial expressions, tone and timing all making her compelling to watch. In contrast her on-stage brother Simon (Charlie Archer) consistently leans towards being melodramatic, and it’s only in the final scene where his character starts to blend with the rest of his family that he feels like part of the same play as everyone else.

Indeed, this sense of mismatched acting styles also applies to the guests. Pauline Knowles brings a wonderful Jordan Baker coolness to Myra, with a clear journey in mood as she resists the madness around her, while Nathan Ives-Moiba (Sandy) seems quite content to bark his lines at anyone and everyone, with little subtlety or variation throughout.

Considering all of the above, perhaps what jars most about this production is how difficult it is to believe any chemistry or relationship between the family members and their guests. Susan Wooldridge, who is sensational as Judith Bliss in the second half of the piece, with commanding presence and vitality, is perhaps too old and withering to be believed as Sandy’s obsession, while Benny Baxter-Young’s frustrated and frumpy David seems the exact opposite of what Myra and Jackie would endure a trip to this house for. Individually the characters work, but together they don’t.

Hywell Simons and Katie Barnett. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

In saying that, there are some moments of brilliance. My personal highlights include the hilariously awkward arrival of Jackie and Richard – deftly played by Katie Barnett and Hywel Simons – which captures just how amusing British politeness can be to the outside eye, while Clara (Myra McFadyen) dazzles every time she sets foot on stage, particularly in the unexpected interlude. Even more unexpected (for everyone concerned) in this performance was the breakfast trolley’s stage direction to topple over, which though admirably covered by quick-fire improvisation, perhaps most deftly sums this production up: funny but off-balance.

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 March)

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‘The BFG’ (Royal Lyceum Theatre: 28 November ’14 – 3 January ’15)

Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“This is where dreams is beginning…”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

This is the Lyceum’s Christmassy adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ginormous classic. Its message is of humility and caution, all intertwined, and it’s very enjoyable. I loved Dahl’s children stories and still do. It was therefore a delight to hear David Wood’s success in retaining the whimsical language for this play within a play and to see director Andrew Panton realise it all on stage.

What better to represent the many rooms of childhood imaginings than a doll’s house? That’s designer Becky Minto’s large doll’s house across the breadth of the Lyceum’s stage and there’s a 00-Super gauge train track going around it, just as would be expected of any child’s play room. However, arguably the most enchanting aspect of the set is the BFG’s cave and specifically the hanging shelves that are lowered into view, adorned with jars of multi-coloured dreams. Simple but so effective. And there are the bright and innovative costumes to match. In and out of onesies, dresses and tops; on and off with hats and shoes; all changed at a quick pace – a pace wholly in keeping with the never-ending imaginations of children. One of the most impressive costumes in the wardrobe is the Queen’s – a majestic Claire Knight – whose wellie boots are topped with fur and whose royal emblem is emblazoned on a red gilet.

An integral part of this production is its combination of live music and pre-recorded sound effects. The cast’s rounded musical performances only serve to further enchant a spell-bound audience. The hard work of Claire McKenzie – musical director and composer– is evident in polished but yet playful performances. Her marriage of jaunty Scottish rhythms, fiddles and drums with children’s nursery rhymes and kazoos is expertly balanced.


Any decent toy box has its puppets and they are brought out to play big time in this production. The medium provides much comic input as well as creating numerous characters in the hands of a small cast. The puppetry is an original and attractive feature and gives literal form to the make-believe on stage. Robyn Milne’s infectious giggle and expressive performance brings the Sophie doll vibrantly to life whilst Lewis Howden’s mysterious and magnificent BFG is not so much scaled down – except for those ears! – as uplifted. Clumsy on his feet and tripping over his gobblefunk speech this BFG warms the hearts of the audience.
Children and adults alike respond happily to the energy and enjoyment of the performances and repeated ‘whizzpopping’ had the children – and many adults – giggling with glee. This is, after all, a treasured story that seems to have lived a lot longer than its thirty-two years might suggest. There is wonderful fancy evoked here, escapism and delightful nostalgia.

“Human beans is not thinking giants exist.” Well, after this great big and magic production this human bean thinks otherwise.



Reviewer: Amy King (Seen 3 December)

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