Hay Fever, one of the best-loved of all Coward’s plays, was reckoned by Tyrone Guthrie to have ‘as good a chance of immortality as any works of an author now living’. This comic masterpiece, first performed in June, 1925, has survived the years beyond even Guthrie’s glowing prediction.
Hay Fever tells the story of a busy weekend at a country house, where each member of the Bliss family has invited a guest to stay, without informing anyone else. Judith, a recently retired actress contemplating a swift return to the stage, has invited her young admirer Sandy Tyrell, who believes he is in for a romantic tryst with an unattached beauty. Judith’s husband David is working on the last chapter of his novel The Sinful Woman, and has invited the sweet ingénue Jackie Coryton to keep him company, and perhaps provide fertile ground for research. Not to be outdone, brother and sister Simon and Sorel have each invited an older lover, Myra Arundel and Richard Greatham respectively, each one anticipating having the house, and their lover, to themselves.
Instead, all four guests are forced into close quarters with the four members of the host family, each one more eccentric than the last. Parlour games turn to rancour; romantic alliances split and reform with flippant ease, recalling at once the dry wit of Wilde and the carnivalesque atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Saturday evening climaxes into a clamour of melodrama, each of the invited guests begin to rue ever accepting an invitation from the inimitable Blisses.