Tuesday, November 29

The Fever Syndrome – Hampstead Theatre

Alexis Zegerman’s new play takes the form of a sitcom with heightened drama, raising thought-provoking questions about science, morality and sociology. The Myers family are united to witness their father receiving his lifetime of achievement award for his contribution towards IVF treatment. Dr Richard Myers suffers from Parkinsons disease and as his children co-habit under one roof, along with his new wife, tensions ensue as they grapple for his inheritance and as wounds of the past are reopened. The play is packed full of different topics for speculation, but perhaps the most pertinent and most interesting is the difference between parenting and raising a child and the physical ability to create new life.

The set designed by Lizzie Clachan is grandiose, the interior of a three-storey house in New York. It was a lot like a doll’s house, further inviting us to examine the characters and their interactions. In this respect, the play is quite clinical, it feels like an invasion of privacy having a constant window into the characters worlds. The staging was a huge contributor to the dynamic feel of the show with the gradual fading in and out of scenes in different rooms as they sometimes play simultaneously, the worlds overlapping. 

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

The cast deliver brilliant performances as they convey tenuous relationships cleverly directed by Roxana Silbert. Lisa Dillon plays chronically “dissatisfied” Dot who constantly broods on her problems. Her twin half-brothers Anthony and Thomas share an intimacy clouded over by an undercurrent of rivalry. Sam Marks’ Anthony is sleek and charming, smooth-talking his family with an ostensible ease and confidence. Thomas, on the other hand is a scatty mess who is endearing in his sensitivity. Alex Waldmann is wonderful at capturing the multi-faceted nature of this character with his projected image of himself as a bohemian artist, whilst he actually suffers in the oppressive environment of the house and the past he must reconcile. Bo Poraj’s Nate is just as impressive. At first, Nate seems like the rigid, politically correct brunt of the jokes but as the play progresses, we realise this is merely the category that the other characters box him into. His fairness, and empathy become apparent, and I particularly enjoyed the sparky interactions between him and Richard, as he vies for Richard’s approval. Alexandra Gilbreath plays Megan, Richard’s nauseatingly flirtatious younger wife.

Robert Lindsay shines as Richard. There is already momentum built up surrounding his character before he enters the stage. It is humbling and awe-inspiring to witness a powerfully intelligent, uncompromising man who has been slightly dampened by neglect and his physical and mental decline. Lindsay carries the play with a punchy fierceness which otherwise lies tragically dormant in Richard’s quieter moments.

Zegerman’s writing is thematically striking, and she captures the chaos of a dysfunctional family well, but some of the characters and their dialogue lack depth. Perhaps this is to highlight Richard’s profundity or to detach us from the characters and examine them from a psychological perspective.

As we continue in technological and scientific advancements, we find ourselves in an era of perfectionism and a quick-fix mentality. This play, through its main character carefully carves out the nuances between the beauty of scientific achievement and possibility and the concurrent human imperfection. With plenty of material for intellectual stimulation, I believe anyone could find something they resonate with in this play.

Playing until 30th April, https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2022/the-fever-syndrome/

Reviewer: Riana Howarth

Reviewed: 5th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★