There's a new world premiere in town at the moment as Alexis Zegerman's The Fever Syndrome makes its debut, setting up home at Hampstead Theatre for a short run.
The Fever Syndrome is the story of a dysfunctional family who return to their childhood home to see their ill father receive an award. As the family dynamics play out, each of the three children unravel problems both individually and collectively. What makes this a bit different to the normal family drama are the recurring themes of science and medicine with ethical questions thrown up throughout.
The patriarch of the family, Richard Myers, is played by Robert Lindsay, returning to the stage after his Olivier award nominated turn in Anything Goes last year. He may have blown audiences away in that comedic role, but given something with a bit more substance as he does here, it's clear to see why (like the character he plays here) he is an Award winning actor. As Richard comes to terms with his own deteriorating medical condition, Lindsay taps in to a complicated yet compelling character performance.
With nine actors in the play, The Fever Syndrome is very much an ensemble piece with each character getting their own time to shine. As the oldest child, Dot, Lisa Dillon has some of the most emotional moments as she navigates the debilitating health condition of her daughter Lily, played wonderfully by Nancy Allsop. While husband Nate, played by Bo Paraj, feels more of an afterthought in their family dynamic, the chemistry between them all is played out beautifully, culminating in some intense scenes.
Alex Waldmann is an absolute standout as Thomas - a flawed character who spirals throughout the play thanks to interaction with his family and his partner Philip, played by Jake Fairbrother. The third child is played by Sam Marks who is brilliantly cocky as the prodigal son Anthony. Alexandra Gilbreath plays Roberts third wife, Megan, who is fantastic as she struggles to cope with looking after her husband and sacrificing her own life. The cast are rounded up by a mystery girl whose identity is revealed later on, played by Charlotte Pourret Wythe.
The acting in The Fever Syndrome is top class, helped along by some exceptional writing by Alexis Zegerman. Though it may be wordy at times, it is never hard to follow - often wonderfully witty with some laugh out loud moments, and some truly gut-wrenching scenes, with one in particular involving Lily difficult to watch. Posing questions regarding the ethics of science and genetics through connections to the family that unravel as the plot escalates, the writing adds much more depth to what could be a by-numbers script and gives you pause for thought.
The set design by Lizzie Clachan is among the best I have ever seen on a stage. Set out to represent the Myers house cut open so every room is visible, every inch of the huge multi-level space is used to brilliant effect. With different characters in different rooms, the action pans from one to the other during scene changes, feeling oddly reminiscent of watching a television sitcom - helped by short bursts of music interspersing the changes. This is a unique way to stage a play but one that works remarkably well thanks to the impeccable direction from Roxana Silbert. Amazing lighting design by Matt Haskins and sound by Max Pappenheim adds to the perfection and precision of The Fever Syndrome, with some clever and unexpected effects played out on stage.
Simply put, The Fever Syndrome is a resounding success. With incredible acting from some brilliantly fleshed out characters and thought-provoking yet captivating writing, this was always going to be a highly enjoyable show. When you add the phenomenal staging into the mix, what you are left with is something truly special. There may be a lot of a new plays fighting for attention in London at the moment, but make a date with The Fever Syndrome and see something that will stay with you for a long time.
The Fever Syndrome plays at Hampstead Theatre until April 30th. Tickets from https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/