I hesitate to apply the overused ‘bus’ analogy, but really, it is the perfect choice in this instance. After a long break, we found out recently that Jeremy has been filming a new drama for BBC2 (White Heat), to be shown in 2012. And today, I have confirmation that Jeremy will be treading the boards for the first time since 2004 in a Howard Davies production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.
Howard Davies, like Jeremy, has links to the Bristol Old Vic (Mr Davies worked with them in the 1970’s and Jeremy trained there) and there’s a further link: he has worked extensively with the National Theatre, directing Jeremy in The Shaughraun in 1988.
At the moment, Kevin McNally is definitely confirmed as being involved, and unconfirmed reports link Lindsay Duncan and Olivia Colman to the production. Lindsay Duncan appeared in Davies’ successful production of another Coward play, Private Lives (co-starring Alan Rickman) in 2002.
We think that Jeremy will be playing David Bliss. For those unfamiliar with the play, Hay Fever is a sparkling comedy, written in 1924 and first performed in 1925 at the Ambassadors and Criterion theatres. David Bliss is a retired novelist, his wife is a retired actress, and they have two children. The play revolves around a weekend during which the family, and their house guests, encounter a range of arguments, misunderstandings and surprises with hilarious results and typical Cowardian wit. Based on Coward’s experiences of visiting the American actress, Laurette Taylor at her home (Laurette, apparently, didn’t confine her love of drama to the stage), Coward later said, in Present Indicative:
On Sunday evenings… we had cold supper and played games, often rather acrimonious games, owing to Laurette’s abrupt disapproval of any guest (whether invited by Hartley, Dwight, Marguerite, or herself) who turned out to be self-conscious, or unable to act an adverb or a historical personage with proper abandon. There were also, very often, shrill arguments concerning rules. These were waged entirely among the family, and frequently ended in all four of them leaving the room and retiring upstairs, where, later on, they might be discovered, by any guest bold enough to go in search of them, amicably drinking tea in the kitchen.
It was inevitable that someone should eventually utilize portions of this eccentricity in a play, and I am only grateful that no guest of the Hartley Manners thought of writing Hay Fever before I did.
When you read what Coward had to say about Hay Fever, in Play Parade, about the skill required for this play to be successful, then you can see what a treat it will be to see Jeremy in this production:
Hay Fever is considered by many to be my best comedy. Whether or not this assertion is true, posterity, if it gives it a glance, will be able to judge with more detachment than I. At any rate it has certainly proved to be a great joy to amateurs, owing, I suppose, to the smallness of cast, and the fact that it has only one set, which must lead them, poor dears, to imagine that it is easy to act. This species of delusion being common to amateurs all over the world, no word of mine shall be spoken, no warning finger of experience raised, to discourage them, beyond the timorous suggestion that from the professional standpoint, Hay Fever is far and away one of the most difficult plays to perform that I have ever encountered. To begin with, it has no plot at all, and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends upon expert technique from each and every member of the cast. I am very much attached to Hay Fever. I enjoyed writing it and producing it, and I have frequently enjoyed watching it.
I’m sure we will all enjoy watching it too. Of course, actors are notoriously changeable creatures, it is early days, and other projects may materialise which may take priority. I will, of course, keep you updated when I know more. But for now, this is wonderful news. To see an actor on stage is a rare and memorable experience.