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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Review of Noel Coward's Hay Fever on at The Mill at Sonning

The water wheel in the bar at The Mill at Sonning
The water wheel in the bar at The Mill at Sonning

It's always a pleasure to be invited to the gorgeous Mill at Sonning. It's a beautiful location, with an intimate sized theatre, and such a clever concept of a lunch/play or dinner/play package.

HAY FEVER 1 Emily Panes (Left) Issy van Randwyck (Centre) William Pennington (Right) Photo credit Andreas Lambis
Emily Panes (Left) Issy van Randwyck (Centre) William Pennington (Right) Photo credit Andreas Lambis

Written nearly 100 years ago in 1925 by Noel Coward in just 4 days, Hay Fever is very much of its era. The comfortably-off had at least one servant, and could take having their needs being looked after for granted. Which meant that they could indulge their passions and perhaps become rather self-absorbed. The Bliss family are of this ilk. Judith Bliss (played by Issy Van Randwyck) is a retired actress, although we soon learn that she never really turns off the acting. Her husband, David (played by Nick Waring) writes romantic novels. Their two adult children, Simon (played by William Pennington) and Sorel (played by Emily Panes) don't have professions. Simon dabbles in drawing and painting, and Sorel appears to be a little of a socialite.

Joanna Brokes plays the long-suffering Clara, subjected to the families whims to have extra people to stay - meaning more cooking, bedroom preparation, meeting and greeting. None of which she's told about in advance, so there's not really enough food for the guests who start descending for the weekend. Clara used to be the Dresser for Judith, and isn't suited to the role of housekeeper, she's adopted her employers bad manners. She was the funniest and the most fun character for me.

There is soon a house full, each member of the family having invited someone that they may or may not have a romantic interest in. There follow a series of upsets, misunderstandings, and assignations, with the pairing up in constant flux. I felt that the pace could have been faster here; it's a bit of an improbable plot, so making the farcical elements snappier would have added more humour.

Nervous house guests re-assemble for breakfast, and take the only sensible action they can - they quietly leave as fast as possible. It takes the Bliss family a while to work out what's happened, with only Sorel having any awareness of how awful they are to experience. But, we are left with the feeling that this scenario is not new and won't be a one-off, there will be other uncomfortable guests in the future.

 Issy van Randwyck photo credit Andreas Lambis
Issy van Randwyck photo credit Andreas Lambis

The costumes for this production were absolutely gorgeous, and Natalie Titchener should be congratulated for producing such beautiful designs.

This is such a great venue, it really is worth the trip out of London, even if a certain Mr Clooney isn't in audience!

The Mill at Sonning Theatre

Address: Sonning Eye ,Reading, RG4 6TY


When: 16 March - 13 May 2023

Evening Shows Wed - Sat Sat

Matinees Every Week Sun



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