When people start saying ‘It’s all terribly British’ you know that they are not just talking about cucumber sandwiches and the Grenadier Guards…but about the mad behavior of British people, who (like the mad dogs and Englishmen who ‘go out in the midday sun’ in Noel Coward’s song) arrange indoor pursuits al fresco in the English Summer…as if we lived in the Mediterranean.
In fact, the likelihood of anyone getting actual hay fever at the first night of the Southwood Players most recent triumph was….nil. Indeed, the meterological conditions conjured up the spirit of the Hong Kong handover in 1997 or the Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant, as we followed our future and current Sovereign in typical stoicism, as the rain poured down on the audience eating their supper and on the first act of the play.
But what was truly astonishing was the way that the actors continued as if rain pouring through the roof of the Hall in the Bliss Family home at Cookham was the most normal thing in the world. I actually had to do a double take to see if there wasn’t some kind of canopy above them – so natural, accomplished and un-phased were their performances.
Hay Fever is just such a great play from so many perspectives. There were some singularly inappopropriate lines, in the circumstances: ‘I do hope that the weather says fine for the whole weekend’ (as the rain poured down in the first Act) and ‘its such a shame that its raining so hard’ (as the clouds finally cleared for the second act). But we were all nevertheless transported, by the excellent direction of Anna McGowan and the beautiful set (did I detect the art work of Judy Bishop?) to the 1920s; to a world of weekend house-parties and punting on the stream at the end of the garden, which I felt most of us there might have rather enjoyed…if we were the Blisses or their friends. Perhaps we were all born too late…but then, of course, there was the Second World War round the corner….
It was a delight to see Maddy Woosnam on the stage and playing opposite her mother Lavinia Owen, in the role of her mother, and this worked so brilliantly in all sorts of little ways showing the great understanding between them.
The enthusiastic rugger-playing Iain Mcleod was brilliantly cast and Ian May-Miller and Steve Percy as foils to the powerful women on the set were wonderful.
Kathy May-Milller the vampirish Myra Arundel and the delightfully smooth Geoffrey Burnand and the winsome Caroline Hall, all provided very entertaining character portrayals. I found Naomi Ellis as Clara the maid – grumpily stomping across the set to open the door again to another guest, which the inconsiderate family had invited, was really hilarious.
But the show, of course, was stolen by Lavinia Owen as Judith Bliss. How do you do it Lavinia? Very funny, lines delivered brilliantly and a red wig which was just wonderful. As the Bliss family got stuck into after dinner games in the second act, I did slightly wonder what it must be like being invited to stay for the weekend in the Owen household….’anyone want to play ‘in the manner of the word?’’ I had to look up the word ‘winsome’…
Thank you so much to everyone who took part – just fantastic acting, direction, staging, costuming – everything. It makes a huge difference to a community to have such amazing people who are willing to put on events like this. It draws us together in a common experience which we will all remember for years.
Thank you also on behalf of the Itchen Valley Parish to all who came and bought tickets – without these sort of events we would not be able to operate.
Stop Press: Hay Fever raised £6300 of which 50% will go to the Itchen Valley Churches – fantastic thank you so much everyone!