Hay Fever: Noël Coward’s sharp comedy hits Helsinki

Text by Anna Olkinuora 

 

Hay Fever by Noel Coward

Finn-Brit Players & Passport Theatre

Directed by Adrian Goldman

The Finn-Brit Players in co-production with Passport Theatre get together for the second time in Helsinki. This spring, they bring us Noel Coward’s comedy Hay Fever.  I’ve been invited to the rehearsals the weekend before the opening night, to see how the production is shaping up and to let you, my dear reader, to take a glimpse behind the scenes before the opening night (and the ‘real’ review by yours truly).

Hay Fever is a clever comedy filled with deliciously quirky characters that at first glimpse seem like larger than life, but as I sit through the run through I start to realise I can find such characters in real life. One of the cast members, Hosanna Megumi, agrees with me: ‘I come from a very lively and dramatic family, so there are many aspects of the play that I can relate to!’

The play is set in the late 1920s in the Bliss’ country house. The utterly self-absorbed and eccentric Bliss family have all, unbeknownst to each other, invited guests down for the weekend. Yes, you guessed it, hilarity (and drama of all kinds) ensues.

The cast is an international group of, apparently, ‘professionals, semi-professionals and wannabes’: Stephanie Carlson (Judith Bliss), Demian Stimson (David Bliss), Hosanna Megumi (Sorel Bliss), Mikael Kivimäki (Simon Bliss), Jess Hollmeier (Myra Arundel), Alistair Logan (Richard Greatham), Elina Jackson (Jackie Coryton), Todd Elliott (Sandy Tyrell), and Sophie Michaud (Clara).

The director, Adrian Goldman, welcomes me to the rehearsals with a warm smile and a handshake that means business. There is a wonderful buzz in the rehearsal room with the cast getting ready for a run through. I find a place for me and my laptop and am ready to write something in-between a review and a feature. I am not quite sure what to call this. All I know is that after what I’ve seen in the rehearsal room, I want to see more!

I wanted to know why Adrian chose this particular play. ‘This has been on my “bucket list” of plays to do for a long time’ he says. ‘In fact, my directing folder is one that I made for myself when I was a graduate student in the US!’ Adrian has always liked the play especially because of its construction: `it has a wonderful open arc, going from quiet as Act I opens to loud at the end of Act II, down to a dying fall as the lights go down on the last act.  I also love the fact that there are so many multi-character scenes.’ Another reason for choosing Hay Fever is that it has a plenty or rich characters for women. And that, unfortunately, is still rare. In addition, Adrian tells me, he is now ready to direct Coward. ‘He is known to be difficult because the humour is all in between the lines, in people feel but don’t say.’

When I review performances, I don’t usually get to talk to the performers, so it was quite fun to get to see the cast working on their characters and hear more about their process. Before the rehearsals, I asked the cast to tell me a bit about their characters and how they ‘find them’ in the process. Hay Fever, it turns out, has given the cast a lot to think about and a lot of material to work with as they build their characters. Many find parallels between their character and real life.

Stephanie Carlson’s character, the mother of the family, Judith Bliss is a celebrated, retired actress yearning to return to the lime lights. ‘For female performers, ageism is a problem’ Stephanie says. ‘So I understand her situation. She is vital and alive and not a kid anymore. Judith thrives on excitement, and I share that with her’.
Elina Jackson can see her younger self in her character Jackie, one of the guests as she used to be ‘incredibly shy and awkward’ and has used that as a basis of building her character. ‘I prepared by thinking about who Jackie is and what she does on a daily basis. I thought of people who reminded me of Jackie and took aspects of their behaviour to use. Then I connected the dots, connecting myself with Jackie so that I would be able to somewhat understand and feel what she feels. I basically opened the door to the Jackie that I sometimes really am.’

I found myself marvelling at the depth of the character work that the cast has done. They have all clearly spent significant amount of time and energy to create three-dimensional characters and it shows at the rehearsals. As Demian Stimson, who plays David Bliss, the father of the mad family, puts it: ‘there is no substitute for hard work, no short cuts, lots of instinct and the most important element is childlike play and pretend’.

Adrian has clearly given the actors space to build their characters themselves. In fact, he says, the director’s job is to support the process, not stifle it and make actors his puppets. I feel like hugging him!

Curious to hear what drew the cast member to audition for the play I get a lot of praise for Adrian.

For most of them one of the reasons for auditioning was that they have worked with Adrian in the past and were eager to do so again. Mikael Kivimäki claims working on Adrian’s previous project was the best theatrical experience of his life, and that he jumped on the chance to work with him again.

Damian tells me that Adrian’s approach suits him as an actor and he feels like Adrian can get the best out of the cast. (Might be worth pointing out that I e-mailed my questions to the cast, so the presence of the director definitely didn’t influence them).

I can see what the praise is about. In a short rehearsal run of two weeks, the play is in excellent shape when I go meet the cast and crew. –Or maybe they are on their best behaviour for my benefit. Whatever the case, the cast plays very well together and there is a great level of professionalism visible to everyone that is a joy to witness. This will definitely be worth a watch. If you don’t have a ticket yet, make sure you get yours before they’re sold out!

Hay Fever plays at Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth (Kaapelitehdas, Tallberginkatu 1 A / 117, 00180 Helsinki)

Weds 16 May 2018 at 19:00
Thurs 17 May 2018 at 19:00
Fri 18 May 2018 at 19:00
Sat 19 May 2018 at 19:00
Sun 20 May 2018 at 19:00

TICKETS

Bought online   Holvi Shop
16.00€ – standard admission
12.80€ – students, national service, retired & FBP members

Bought at the door
17.00€ – standard admission
13.00€ – students, national service, retired & FBP members

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