FOR the past six years, Jo Puttick’s Wessex Actors Company has been entertaining increasingly large audiences across Dorset and beyond every summer, in all weathers, in the open air and occasionally indoors.
This year’s offering is the company’s second Coward, Hay Fever, that farcical comedy of manners set in the country home of the highly theatrical Bliss family. Grande dame of the London stage Judith has invited a young admirer, without telling her husband David (a writer who has invited an ingenue to “observe”), Simon, who has invited the vampish Myra, or Sorel, who has invited the pompous diplomat Richard.
The Blissful idea of being sociable to guests is peculiar, to say the least. They are either ignored or swamped in a maelstrom of affectation and faux romance.
It’s vital to play Coward for real, and Virginia Harrington’s production for Wessex Actors captures the marvellously outre essence of the play, with its tangible familiarity of the Blisses, and the dreadful awkwardness of the “guests.”
The vagaries of the English summer, and the differences between performance venues require a spontaneous dedication from the actors, and also an ability to modulate volume to suit not only the venue but the weather conditions.
So it’s high praise for all of them at Nothe Fort on Saturday evening. Happily for everyone, the weather gods had listened to the forecasters and turned a threatening and damp day into a beautiful evening just in time for the start of the show. It’s an atmospheric setting, but the circular walls can play havoc with audibility, specially when the seagulls come to call.
The scene is set by squabbling siblings Simon (Sean Beaumont) and Sorel (Harriet Webb), with perfect diction and volume so that the audience could settle to the enjoyment without worrying about hearing. As Lotte Fletcher-Jonk has just the right presence as Judith, and she’s perfectly matched by the suave Peter Watson as David.
Nathan Linsdell is particularly impressive as the love-lorn sandy, with Lizzie Briscoe as the perpetually terrified Jackie, Carole Allen as a waspish Myra and Pete Beebee as the perplexed Richard Greatham. The cast is rounded off by Jan Smiles, living up to her name as the charmingly-scatty Clara, Judith’s dresser turned very eccentric maid.
There are some brilliantly imagined moments in this production, relying on perfect timing from the cast and adding to the hilarity of the piece.
Whatever The Master might have voted on Thursday, his wit was the perfect antidote to the fall out blues, and it’s hard to imagine it better done.
You can see this sparkling production at various venues until 24th July. Don’t miss the chance, as this is rumoured to be Wessex Actors finale.
Forthcoming dates : 26 July, Marine Theatre Lyme Regis: 1 July, Mowlem Theatre Swanage: 2 July Shelley Theatre Boscombe: 3 and 17 July Upton Country Park: 8 July Regent Centre Christchurch: 9 July Plaza Theatre Romsey: 10 July Swans Rugby Club Wareham: 15 July Barrington Theatre Ferndown: 22 July Exchange Sturminster Newton: 24 July Poundbury Farmhouse, Dorchester.