On Wednesday evening, I made an impromptu trip to London. Not entirely spontaneous, but only planned on Tuesday – when a very persuasive promotional email arrived in my inbox, telling me that tickets for Hay Fever were cut by more than 50%. Having never sat in one of the best seats in the house before, and having intended to go at some point to see the play, I was only a few clicks away from booking my ticket – and only 24 hours away from hopping on the train and heading over to the Duke of York’s.
I got there a bit early and (shock!) bought some books on Charing Cross Road – but, before I get to that, I really loved Hay Fever. It is, perhaps, not one of Noel Coward’s most sophisticated comedies – it is entirely inconsequential, and the plot is haywire (pun intended) – but it was a complete delight. The plot: Judith Bliss (Felicity Kendal) (!) is a recently retired actress and head of a family, which comprises husband David and grown-up children Simon and Sorrell. All of them have independently invited people to stay with them in their country pile, and nobody has informed anybody else… cue all manner of romantic fiascos and familial squabbles. The Bliss family all live extremely heightened lives, responding to everything with self-indulgent drama. They understand and accept each other perfectly, under the fireworks, but the visitors grow alarmed and weary of the whole thing.
The first gasp from the audience was for the beautiful and brilliant set, designed by Peter McKintosh. It’s just the sort of 1920s house I wish I lived in, and one can excuse the unlikelihood at this family living in what is essentially a hallway. After that, we just laughed our way through the play – particularly the performances by the wonderful Felicity Kendal and the equally wonderful Sara Stewart, who played ageing femme fatale Myra Arundel with delectable wit and glorious facial expressions. It also convinced me that paying enough to be able to see the facial expressions might be an investment I should make again…
Anyway, you should go and see it. Tickets are discounted, and it’s extremely funny.
And those books I bought? Here they are…
I always pop into Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes Books, the only secondhand bookshops on/around Charing Cross Road which are affordable (although one of these books did come from the £2 table outside an otherwise extremely expensive bookshop on a side street). I’m always amazed by how very rude the man serving in Henry Porde Books is. I’ve been in dozens of times, and every time he treats his customers like inconveniences, snapping and grumping at them. Thankfully his colleague, standing next to him, was all laughs and joviality, which made up for it – though when I laughed along, the grumpy man openly glared at me. Which of these two is Henry Pordes, I wonder? Onto the books, before I’m banned from the shop:
The Night Club by Herbert Jenkins – and I was pondering buying it online only earlier that day! I’m currently listening to The Return of Alfred courtesy of Librivox (more on that soon), so I’m on quite a Jenkins kick.
Celia’s Secret by Michael Frayn and David Burke – an intriguing looking book about research that happened while Frayn was writing Copenhagen, as the result of a mysterious letter being sent to him…
Then There Was Fire by Minou Drouet – I’d never heard of Drouet, but apparently she was a child prodigy poet a few decades ago?
Twentieth Century Literature 1901-1940 by A.C. Ward – Ward wrote a very interesting book on 1920s literature (published just after the fact, in 1930), which helped tremendously with my DPhil – so I’m intrigued to read his wider lens on the first 40 years of the 20th century.
Apostate by Forrest Reid – I know nothing about him, but love these little editions. A bit of digging reveals this to be his autobiography, so I shall doubtless find out more about him when I read it!