|Ben Ingles, Kate Layden and Olivia Mace in Hayfever|
Review: Hayfever at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick until November 7. Box office: 017687 74411.
IF you have ever been invited to someone's house for the weekend and realised within a few hours that you've made a terrible mistake then you'll enjoy Hay Fever.
Four guests are invited to a weekend with the family from hell in this Noel Coward comedy set in the 1920s. The last remnants of the upper classes are living out their weird and dysfunctional lives in the country pile at Cookham and having got bored with the adverb game, charades and other trivial pursuits, decide to have fun at the expense of their guests.
This is a play from another time and another culture which could easily have been lost on a 21st century audience but director Ian Forrest and a top-notch Keswick cast manage to keep the play relevant and funny.
The set alone (designed by Martin Johns) was worth a round of applause - Keswick audiences are used to sets with a wow factor but this looked as if it had just stepped out of the pages of Ideal Home magazine. Costume as well was used to great effect and showed off the swinging twenties in great style.
The family are introduced first with Kate Layden (playing the mother Judith Bliss) taking centre stage and playing the retired actress in a wonderfully affected and effective manner. Olivia Mace and Benjamin Askew play son and daughter Sorel and Simon, somehow managing to make these two rude and silly creatures likeable. Even the 'hard-working' father David (Peter Macqueen) slowly reveals himself to be as ghastly as the others.
And while the weekend visitors may also have their personality defects this simply add to the comic effect of the show. Fiona Drummond gives a terrific performance as nervous and never-wracked Jackie while Ben Ingles is the bemused and befuddled Sandy. Polly Lister is strident as Myra Arundel but even her confidence is lost in a social game where only the family know the rules. And 'diplomatic' Richard Greatham (played by Jack Power) is soon out of his depth.
Maid Clara (Heather Phoenix) provides a grounding in this maelstrom - and she does it in style, getting laughs galore out of her brief scenes.
The social class structure may have eroded to some degree over the last 90 years but the games people play remain as acute, embarrassing and as suitable a platform for comedy as ever. The cast, set and costumes all combine to make this a wonderful night out. But add in the still razor-sharp script of Noel Coward and you'll be relishing this performance long after the curtain comes down.