Written when Coward was only twenty-four, and produced shortly after, in 1925, Hay Fever is a broad, manic farce which takes place in the country house of a self-absorbed, artistic family. The Blisses, each of whom is creative and spontaneous, ignore the stultifying conventions of society--Judith, an extravagant stage actress, who pursues her own whims whenever it pleases her; her husband David, an author, who enjoys his own spotlight and camp-followers; and their adult children, Simon and Sorel. When Sorel announces that she has invited a weekend guest and would like to be able to use "the Japanese room," she quickly discovers that each of the other family members has also invited a guest for "the Japanese room."
In the course of the weekend, all the guests--conventional people attracted by the exciting lives these non-conformists have created for themselves--find themselves at the mercy of their more confident and assertive hosts. Guests who arrive thinking themselves in love with one person find themselves unexpectedly engaged to marry someone else. No one listens to them, no one recognizes them as individuals, and no one cares about their dashed expectations. As the Bliss family controls the activity during the weekend, the farce borders on absurdity. Outrageous scenes and emotional confrontations, part of their "normal" lives, prove too much for their guests.
The fast-paced interaction one sees on stage constitutes the only "plot," and there are no background stories to add complexity. What you see is obvious--what Coward has intended you to see. Far less subtle than some of his later work and lacking the cynicism and clever repartee for which Coward later became known, the play nevertheless incorporates many of Coward's trademark themes--the sense of entitlement by artists (some of which, he hints, is because they really are superior), their flamboyant behavior, the casual attitudes toward marriage and sex, their egotism and insensitivity to "ordinary" people, along with their sense of fun as they pursue their own pleasure.
These themes are all set into sharp relief by the behavior and attitudes of the guests, who gain no audience sympathy for their predicaments because they are decidedly dull. Though some believe that this is one of Coward's best plays, others will prefer the clever repartee, wit, and irony of the later plays, which tend to have a more intimate focus and smaller cast of characters. Mary Whipple
Thanks to a recent re-reading, Hay Fever is making its way to the top spot on my ever-growing list of favourite plays. It's simply marvellous! Not only does it entertain through the unique plot and characters, it thrills the audience linguistically. The characters speak in perfectly formed quips - wordy but neatly put together.
SOREL: I should like to be a fresh, open-air girl with a passion for games.
SIMON: Thank God you're not.
SOREL: It would be so soothing.
Exchanges like this are abounding in Hay Fever. Nothing is left unsaid, the sentences are trim and the dialogue fast moving. No character is ever stuck for something to say. Thoughts are expressed bluntly and succinctly. Dialogue is never this neat, tidy and satisfying in real life, but it doesn't matter! It's beautiful and hilarious to listen to.
The Bliss family are eccentrically British. They have each invited an unsuspecting guest to stay for the weekend in their country house. There is not enough room and not enough patience! Each simply wants an adoring visitor. When the chaotic eight get together, games are attempted and polite conversation is hard to maintain. The Blisses end up swapping guests and ultimately alienating themselves completely.
This is my favourite Coward play at the moment. It beautifully illustrates the playwright's interest in egotism and self absorption, cloaked in wit and frivolity.
on 13 November 2013
+++ The Bliss family have one thing in common, they are all self centered and self absorbed. This has always been their most delightful trait. Guests come and go and feel ignored. Judith Bliss, an aging actress, interacts with others as they hold a mirror to reflect her vanity. The household is what used to be called "madcap".+++
above is a quote from a review which gave this play 5 stars.
i agree with what they have said but, for me, that means it gets 1 star.
i found the Bliss family simply tedious and annoying. i gave up on the play slightly more than halfway through and was overjoyed that i could simply switch off the Bliss family, unlike their unfortunate guests.
on 2 August 2011
The Bliss family have one thing in common, they are all self centered and self absorbed. This has always been their most delightful trait. Guests come and go and feel ignored. Judith Bliss, an aging actress, intereacts with others as they hold a mirror to relfect her vanity. The household is what used to be called "madcap". This 1971 production of the Coward classic brings back memories of seeing productions of this play in drafty halls church halls. Dramatic Societies loved this and I did too, So will you!
Don Wardell KWXY Radio Palm Springs