Marg Downey stars in “Hay Fever”
We speak to Marg Downey about her role in Melbourne Theatre Company’s new production of “Hay Fever”. By Jenny Burns.
MELBOURNE THEATRE COMPANY’S latest production of Noël Coward’s play “Hay Fever” ticks all the boxes for one of its stars, Marg Downey.
She loves the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), she is again working with the play’s director Lee Lewis, she adores her character and “has a soft spot” for Coward. According to Downey the MTC has a fantastic vibe and it’s very respectful.
“It also has a great canteen,” she added with a laugh.
Lewis and Downey last worked together on “Rupert”, the story of Rupert Murdoch which had a successful run in both Australia and Washington.
Unlike the modern “Rupert”, “Hay Fever”, Coward’s farce about bad manners, family relationships and rivalries, has been around for nearly 100 years.
“While it’s a comedy it is layered and there is a lot going on underneath which is pretty amazing when you consider Coward was only in his 20s when he wrote the play,” Downey said.
Set in the 1920s, “Hay Fever” tells of a weekend at the Bliss family’s country house. Judith Bliss (Marina Prior) is a retired actress who tends towards the melodrama in her everyday affairs while her husband, David (Kim Gyngell), a novelist, can be rather reclusive and foul tempered. But they can be perfectly charming when they want to be while their grown-up children, Simon (Gareth Davies) and Sorel (Imogen Sage), can also be civil, if it suits them. It’s just not on this weekend as all four Bliss family members have invited a guest to stay without telling any of the others. As the guests arrive, it becomes clear that it is not them who will be the problem, but the family themselves.
Downey plays Clara, who was Judith Bliss’s dresser in the theatre and is now her maid. Needless to say Clara is a far better dresser than maid!
Given her character and the farcical nature of the play, ensuring the correct comic timing is an essential part of Downey’s role.
“I have lots of exits and entrances so I am listening and concentrating all the time,” she explains.
Downey’s preparation for the role included researching women in the workforce in the 20s and the role of the dresser in the theatre.
Despite a long and very successful career Downey has rarely had a dresser.
That career has encompassed numerous theatre, television and movie roles. Given her long career, Melbourne-based Downey has seen changes in the arts industry. Most recently these include the creation of independent theatre companies. She is a member of one of these companies, The Photos: Jeff Busby. Kin Collective.
“Actors realise they can’t sit by the phone and wait for it to ring, they have to be proactive and showcase their wares. As a result they are producing some fantastic shows,” she explains.
Further boosting the industry is local audience support.
“Melbourne audiences are great supporters of the arts, whether it be large events such as the ballet or opera or intimate events in smaller spaces,” Downey said.
“There are many great spaces all around Melbourne which are ideal for small, intimate events and shows.”
One of Downey’s favourite spaces is fortyfivedownstairs. Taking in a show here, as well as dinner at such Flinders Lane restaurants as Supernormal or Cumulus Inc. are included in the recommendations she gives to visitors to Melbourne.
A visit to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and if time allows, a trip down the Great Ocean Road to Lorne or to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, are other recommendations. Downey is also a great fan of Melbourne’s parks and gardens.
“Not many major cities have the number of parks we have both in downtown Melbourne and the suburbs,” she said.
Not surprisingly, given her love of green spaces, a walk through the Botanical Gardens and around the Tan rate as her favourite Melbourne experiences.
“I have been walking around the Tan for around 28 years and I never get sick of it or strolling through the gardens as they are always different,” she added.
“Hay Fever” is playing at the Southbank Theatre, the Sumner until 28 October. Visit mtc.com.au for more information and tickets.
Marg Downey in rehearsal for “Hay Fever”. Photo: Brett Boardman.