HAMPSTEAD THEATRE NW3
ENDS 30 APRIL 2022
WRITER: ALEXIS ZEGERMAN
DIRECTOR: ROXANA GILBERT
CAST: LISA DILLON; JAKE FAIRBROTHER; ALEXANDRA GILBREATH; ROBERT LINDSAY; SAM MARKS; BO PORAJ; ALEX WALDMAN
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Hampstead Theatre is a sure bet for gripping relationship sagas. Last year’s Peggy for You with Tamsin Grieg and Sam Yate’s production of Tennessee William’s The Two Character Play come to mind, both receiving positive reviews from our editor SUSAN GRAY. The latest production, The Fever Syndrome written by Alexis Zegerman and directed by Roxana Gilbert, makes three. Set in Manhattan with Robert Lindsay playing a retired scientist winning a lifetime achievement award we are treated to a family gathering as his grown children visit in preparation for the ceremony.
The said Dr Richard Myers (Lindsay) was once the leading innovator in IVF in the States. Now seventy-something, he has a degenerative disease. Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath), wife number three no less, is somewhat younger and finds herself in the role of an overstressed but nonetheless devoted carer. How grateful Dr Myers’ children are to people-pleaser Megan unfolds as we get to know his brood.
The eldest is Dot (Lisa Dillon) from his first marriage, followed by twin sons, Thomas (Alex Waldman) and Anthony (Sam Marks) from his second marriage. There are plenty of sparks from the get-go in The Fever Syndrome and Alexis Zegerman goes for gold introducing sibling rivalry, stepmother baiting and all the fireworks surrounding a patriarchal genius now dependent on a stair lift (an object which merits its own credit in the cast list).
FROM LEFT: ALEXANDRA GILBREATH; ROBERT LINDSAY; SAM MARKS; LISA DILLON; ALEX WALDMAN; JAKE FAIRBROTHER
Dot arrives with her fawning husband Nate (Bo Poraj), who tries to pitch a venture to his father-in-law, and their teenage daughter Lily (Nancy Allsop) who is unwell. Lily explains the play’s title as she has "Periodic Fever Syndrome", a rare autoinflammatory disease which presents as sudden high fever. Dot is fraught with concern for her daughter in a country dependent on private health insurance. For Dot, inheritance is crucial.
Then we meet the terrific twins. Highly-strung Thomas arrives with his affable partner Philip (Jake Fairbrother). Despite being a successful artist, Thomas is forever seeking his father’s withheld approval. Then Anthony arrives. Anthony is a popular, back-slapping sort with good looks to melt his stepmother’s heart which proves useful as a cryptocurrency advocate.
The emotional needs of all are played out against a Manhattan townhouse which, on stage, comprises of open rooms upon rooms like an enormous doll’s house. Lizzie Clachan’s set cleverly allows us to watch the couples in the privacy of their own quarters as they bemoan the others before amassing in the main living room to vent their grievances face to face.
The issues of the day – IVF and the Fever Syndrome – add an intellectual gravitas to the play which Zegerman dissects skilfully, giving the audience something decent to chew on. The characters are permitted to be intelligent albeit with a dash of stereotyping here and there. Even better, they are witty.
Roxana Silbert has orchestrated a taught family reunion in The Fever Syndrome with great roles for the key players (although less nuanced roles for the skilful teen cast including a young Dot who, oddly, charges around haunting her father’s imagination). Every character has a complex back story and fascinating concerns which the cast do justice. Lisa Dillon delivers a moving performance as a savvy, but desperate mother and, with his signature roguish humour, Robert Lindsay makes an elderly man with degenerative disease fun, clever and sarcastic in generous measures.
@RobertLindsay @AlexisZegerman @DillonLisa