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Review: Hay Fever (The Mill AT Sonning)

Review by Daz Gale

When it comes to playwrights, they don’t get much more legendary than Noël Coward whose work has been seen regularly in the West End and around the world for the last century. As it approaches the 100th anniversary since it was written, his classic Hay Fever is now being revived in a brand new production at the always beautiful Mill at Sonning. But does it still hold its own 99 years later or would it make me feel ill?

First written in 1924, Hay Fever first opened in London in 1925 and has since been revived countless times in the West End, around the UK and in New York. It tells the story of the four members of the Bliss family as they each invite a guest to stay for the weekend unbeknownst to them each of the other family members has done exactly they same thing. The eccentric and dramatic family cause their guests alarm as they involve them in their bizarre behaviour in what turns out to be a hilarious and absurd weekend.

Noël Cowards writing remains incredible to this day, particularly in the riotous Hay Fever which really is a laugh a minute. Feeling like an undoubted classic but never outdated, the farcical nature of the perpetually escalating plot is a masterclass in comical writing which still stands up to this day. The greatest attribute to the comedy is in the characters themselves – exaggerated, narcissistic and overly dramatic, they are an absolute joy to watch and provide a lot of ammunition for the director and actors to play with.

Tam Williams' direction makes fantastic use of the fairly small stage, giving each of the nine cast members plenty to do with ibtricare detail and care for the writing, His expert direction is perfectly complemented by Michael Holts set design, brilliantly transportsing the stage into the Bliss' house sliced open to reveal the main space where the action happens - with a great use of design when it comes to doors and the staircase - both integral for some of the more visual comedic moments.

Issy van Randwyck leads the pack as Judith Bliss. Seemingly channelling Moira Rose from Schitts Creek, she is wonderfully overstated as the madcap matriarch. Her reaction to a kiss from an admirer is one of the comic highlights of the show. Her stage husband and sparring partner David beautifully balances her out in a relationship that drives the action of the play and gives an idea of where their children got it from. The scene where they both deal with the repurcussions of their actions is among the funniest of the night.

The Bliss Children Sorel and William are brilliantly played by Emily Panes and William Pennington. Instantly recognisable as a brother and sister dynamic but to a ridiculously escalated extreme, they give off a sense of pretention and entitlement while having a lot of fun playing these problematic roles.

The four guests provide the perfect balance for comedy, more grounded in the real world and shocked at the personalities of the over the top family, they sre played to perfection by Darrell Brockis as Richard, Daniel Fraser as Sandy and Beth Lilly as Jackie. As Myra, Aretha Ayeh is an undoubted standout with her large reaction to the events unravelling and no nonsense approach to it giving the kind of performance that could steal any scene.

The cast are completed by Joanna Brookes in what was my own personal highlight of the whole play as Clara. Disillusioned, overworked and exhausted but fiercely loyal to the Bliss family, her choices in iterating her lines, movements and mannerisms created an incredible comic creation – one who could draw a laugh every time she appeared.

Trips to The Mill at Sonning aren’t just about the show itself, it is more of an overall experience. Its idyllic setting is always beautiful to behold and the two course meal you get with the ticket to the show is absolutely delicious (Tip: Get the Beef shin and ale pie). One of my favourite theatres outside of London to visit, its location a short car ride away from Reading station is more accessible than ever now thanks to the Elizabeth Line. I truly believe this is one place every theatre lover should experience at least once. Even if a show hasn’t blown me away, the experience always makes the trip worthwhile.

Thankfully, that isn’t a problem with Hay Fever which is a truly fantastic production of a classic play. Feeling right at home in the Mill at Sonnings impressive theatre space, a brilliant cast and expert direction bring it back to life. If laughter is the best medicine, this production of Hay Fever is just what the doctor ordered.


Hay Fever plays at The Mill at Sonning until 13th May. Tickets from

Photos by Andreas Lambis


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