Hampstead Theatre – until 30 April 2022
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Robert Lindsay gets a chance to chew the scenery in Alexis Zegerman’s play about a physically failing patriarch and his fractious family.
Lindsay plays Professor Richard Myers, a leader in the field of genetic embryonic research whose physical and mental prowess is slowly and irreversibly eroding as his Parkinson’s disease progresses. Myers’ family descend on his house in a rare visit to attend the ceremony where he will be presented with a prestigious award and are shocked to see his condition. Myers is being cared for by his third wife, Megan (the wonderfully harried Alexandra Gilbreath) and her methods are called into question by controlling daughter Dot (Lisa Dillon), eventually leading to arguments about the family finances and her father’s will. Dot’s half-brothers, twins Thomas (Alex Waldmann) and Anthony (Sam Marks) are a little more reasonable than Dot with their stepmother, but friction grows. It is immediately obvious where the money has gone, following a well-worn trope of family melodramas.
Lizzie Clachan’s inspired set shows bedrooms and corridors in the brownstone house that are lit as picture frames before the play starts, drawing comparison between the happy snapshots of all the babies that Myers has delivered and the miserable relationships within his own family. The action can then switch seamlessly between the main living room set and bedrooms, allowing director Roxana Silbert to add a little pace to the meandering plot. There is a lot crammed in here – every single character has issues, and the overload may mean that you stop caring about any of them. This is a comfortable New York family with a successful and bullying father whose abrasive personality and god complex has damaged his relationships and his children. Lindsay plays his anger and frustration well, but the way the supposedly ailing character moves around the stage changing direction and using chairs easily with an occasional hand tremor thrown in does not convince, making any sympathy disappear. His bullying of his children, especially his gay artist son Thomas, and his neglect of them to further his career and legacy allows the three actors to show their emotional range as they recall their childhoods, but this is nothing we haven’t seen before. There are some wonderfully observed moments and truths about caring for a sick loved one and the trauma of parenting a sick child, and these shine like nuggets of gold amongst the overwrought family dynamics.
The Fever Syndrome of the title is the rare genetic mutation that Lily, Dot’s daughter, has, with her increasingly serious seizures following the trajectory of the mounting tension as both her body and her family attacks itself. Dot’s panic over the money is explained, but there is no resolution. Bo Poraj and Jake Fairbrother are the outsiders visiting with their respective partners, Dot and Thomas, and both are in the firing line as the entire Myers clan attack their weak spots too. The ridiculous final scene is essentially a monologue from the professor – this is delivered skilfully by Lindsay, but rings hollow after all the previous drama.
An exceptional cast does their utmost with the lengthy script in this play that tries a little too hard to include as many plot points as possible. Sit back and enjoy the performances