HAY FEVER – Manor Pavilion Theatre Sidmouth


1 July 2024




Written when Noël Coward was approaching his mid-twenties, it is difficult to believe that his hugely popular play ‘Hay Fever’  is celebrating its centenary having been written in 1924 with its stage premiere the following year. Noted for the strength of the comedy and the verbal sparring between the characters, it has a freshness that belies its age. Therefore a perfect time for it to receive a revival at the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival.

Retired actress, Judith Bliss and her family independently invite a guest to their county house for the weekend; the resulting interactions and conversations lead to chaotic games, intrigue and arguments. Coward carefully uses the first act to set up the plot beautifully and then unleashes merry hell as the guests get caught up in the mad machinations and daliances of the Bliss Family – the ironic name of the family only goes to emphasise that they live their lives in anything but! Quite honestly they are a hideous bunch and described by one character as “…posing self-centred egotists” in a house which is “a complete featherbed of false emotions.” Coward knows exactly what he is doing.

Even with just five days rehearsal, the level of detail that director, Jason Moore, gives the production, is exquisite and he really works on the arc of a play, ensuring the right pace is perfectly executed. Moore has a real feel for Coward and it is well displayed here. With an excellent Andrew Beckett designed set, the period feel is emphasised by a splendid wardrobe designed by Janet Huckle which is a treat to behold.

The role of Judith Bliss has been on many a bucket list; Edith Evans, Celia Johnson, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Penelope Keith, all Dames who have taken on the very theatrical, skittish, ever-performing, wife and mother – in Polly Smith the audience is treated to a truly outstanding performance; nuanced and immaculate, the coquettish turn of the head, the tonal changes of the voice, the superb timing. As good a Judith as you could want to see. Dominic McChesney gives the rather more grounded David Bliss a level of gravitas…..at first, until he shows his full colours with his own ‘games’ – McChesney draws every ounce of comedy from the role that there is to be found. As the children, Simon and Sorrel, Owen Landon and Katherine Dodds effortlessly combine brattishness  with elegant wit. The quartet are entirely believable as a family. Trying to bring some order to the house is Judith’s former dresser, now housekeeper, the straight-talking Clara, which offers Hilary Harwood the chance to gather laughter with such skill and ease one sits back and admires.

As the invited guests; Sam McInnerny, as the Judith Bliss superfan, Sandy, offers a masterclass in comic wide-eyed awkwardness – it takes a particular talent to utter the word ‘Cuckoo’ and bring the house down! Stephanie Lodge’s simpering, delicate and nervous Jackie is so well judged that she attracts the sympathies of the audience. Charlie Tripp gives rather stuffed-shirt diplomat, Richard Greatham, rather more dimensions that the role might offer on paper and he is allowed to make the very most of the awkward pause. Myra Arundel has some of the best lines in the play and Julia Main delivers them with relish.

As ensemble casts go, they don’t get much better than this and as productions of Coward go, this is right up there. A treat from start to finish and the laughs grow and grow throughout. Utterly joyful.


‘Hay Fever’ runs until 6 July. From 8-13 July, ‘Perfect Crime’ by Warren Manzi.



Judith Bliss – Polly Smith

David Bliss – Dominic McChesney

Sorel Bliss – Katherine Dodds

Simon Bliss – Owen Landon

Myra Arundel – Julia Main

Richard Greatham – Charlie Tripp

Jackie Coryton – Stephanie Lodge

Sandy Tyrell – Sam McInnerny

Clara – Hilary Harwood



Writer – Noël Coward

Director – Jason Moore

Design – Andrew Beckett

Lighting & Sound Operation – Mark Rose

Costume Designer – Jan Huckle

Set Builders – Rhys Cannon & James Prendergast

Props Supervisor – James Prendergast


Artistic Director – Paul Taylor-Mills

Season Associate Producer – Andrew Beckett