|Artistic Director Dominic Hill in the Circle of the Citizens Theatre|
Of the entire Noël Coward repertoire what drew you to directing Hay Fever?
It’s not that often performed in Scotland – I guess it has quite a large cast. But I have always loved the play - I think it is so funny, and the way it sends up, yet celebrates, a type of ‘bohemian’ character is still very relevant for today’s audience.
Do you think Coward’s influence can be seen in modern day culture?
I think that you can see his influence on other writers. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee feels like a more modern, and more tragic, version of Hay Fever. And undoubtedly, Pinter, who on the surface seems to inhabit a world that is a million miles away from Coward, was influenced by his clipped and seemingly superficial dialogue. Pinter is Coward with menace.
Does your approach to directing change in any way when directing comedy instead of drama?
Not really. As a director you’re still interested in why the characters do what they do, and say the things they say. I guess there is a greater focus, with this play, on the style and rhythm of the dialogue. What feels different about Hay Fever, and I think it’s partly because he wrote it quickly, is that it has an improvisational feel - characters say things without necessarily knowing where they’re heading. This also suits the characters of the play, many of whom are ‘bored’, have money but little to do and who are just ‘making it up’ as they go along. After all, the plot of the play is rather thin.
Noël Coward’s work is often associated with a particular ‘Englishness’ and a focus on a certain section of society, when you approach the piece is there anything you adapt for a Scottish audience?
I think one of the interesting things about Hay Fever is that there is less focus on the class of the people. The Blisses have money and status because they’ve been successful in what they do, not because they’re members of any particular class. I’ve tried to get away from a pre-conception of a bunch of posh people with cut-glass accents and examine who they are and what their relationships with each other are. Some of them are English, some of them are Scottish. I’m not making any comment on their nationality. I think it’s interesting that the family that Coward based the Blisses on were American. That makes sense to me. They don’t feel particularly English.
How much room does Coward’s script allow for stylistic choices from yourself?
His scripts always seem so concise, as though no word is out of place. I hope we are just examining the characters and their actions with fresh eyes and no pre-conceptions. The set perhaps is not quite what one would expect – no French windows for example. We wanted with the design to emphasise the idea that the Blisses are a family who only exist or have meaning when they are ‘performing’. Life, to them, is a game.
Do you have a favourite line in the play?
Not at the moment. But that might change. I don’t think it’s a text that is particularly aphoristic – unlike Wilde. Its humour comes from the situation, and the characters’ attitude to that situation. ‘This haddock is disgusting’ for instance – in itself it’s not funny but the situation and the delivery make it so.
You have brought together a brilliant cast and creative team can you tell us a little about that process?
What drew you to certain people or did you go into the piece with people already in mind? There are a number of people whom I had admired over the years and wanted to work with – Susan Wooldridge and Benny Baxter-Young, for instance. Others, I auditioned and seemed perfect for the parts. It’s a terrific company. The designer and lighting designer are people I’ve worked with many times – I find that helpful and creative.
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