Director Michael Armstrong (left) satnds on the curved staircase of his in-progress set in early January for the ECHO Players production of Hay Fever, set to open Thursday, Feb. 15. — Adam Kveton Photo

Nanaimo director designing a fine farce for Qualicum Beach

Michael Armstrong discusses building blocks of his Hay Fever production

ECHO Players’ next play is to take place in a gilded cage of the director’s own design.

Hay Fever, a farce/drawing-room comedy by Noel Coward, is currently being rehearsed at the Village Theatre as the director, Michael Armstrong, and his fellow builders erect a large set of Armstrong’s own design.

Complete with curved walls, a curving staircase and a large skylight of criss-crossing beams, the set itself is meant to evoke a gilded cage into which the Bliss family’s guests are invited and toyed with in what Armstrong describes as a family game.

“Each of the members of the family — there’s the mother and the father and the two grown children who live at home — they’ve all invited somebody for the weekend hoping for a romantic engagement, and nobody has told anybody else that they’ve invited somebody,” explains Armstrong.

“But… they’ve all invited somebody who’s more perfect for somebody else in the family than for themselves… it all gets mixed up. They meet their original guests, but then they end up abandoning them and they get picked up by somebody else in the family, and there are all these little romantic engagements which are basically all just part of the game, in order to try to shock people. Get these weird, emotional points. And then they get rid of them so they can go along with their normal life,” Armstrong said with a smile.

It’s a play he said he feels is perfectly suited for ECHO.

“The British heritage, the roaring ’20s kind of feel to it, and the fact that it’s a farce and a drawing-room comedy at the same time,” in addition to some great writing, he said, makes it a good fit.

For his cast (the four family members, their four guests and a maid), Armstrong said he’s got actors coming from Nanaimo to Courtenay taking part.

“It’s a very funny piece of work, and the actors are doing really nice work finding those moments,” said Armstrong. “We are working a lot on timing and bits.”

Asked what will mark his production compared to others of Hay Fever, Armstrong said it’s the emphasis of the game aspect of the character interactions.

“It’s a conscious game for them, and it’s something that they all know; the kids have been trained to play it. Some are better at it than others. Some are more reluctant at it than others, but the family does it,” with the mother perhaps being the lead in these little family dramas, Armstrong said.

She’s a temporarily retired theatre actor from London’s west-end, and someone who does everything with more theatricality and excitement than is needed.

Asked what he hopes audiences will get out of the production, Amstrong said, “I can guarantee you that people are going to laugh harder than they’ve laughed in a long time.

Hay Fever opens at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach on Thursday, Feb. 15.

For tickets, go to www.echoplayers.ca/.

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