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.

Where Melbourne - - Contents -

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 for more in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets.

Marg Downey in re­hearsal for “Hay Fever”. Photo: Brett Board­man.

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