Review: The Fever Syndrome, at Hampstead Theatre

Beautifully staged play about science, illness and family dynamics festures a stellar cast

Thursday, 7th April — By Lucy Popescu

THE FEVER SYNDROME

Alex Waldmann and Jake Fairbrother in The Fever Syndrome. Photo: Ellie Kurttz

ALEX Zegerman’s ambitious play about science, illness and family dynamics would have benefited from a narrower focus.

Professor Richard Meyer (Robert Lindsay), a renowned IVF scientist, is about to be receive a lifetime achievement award. Meyer’s family gather at his Manhattan Upper West Side home to celebrate with him. Now in his 70s, he has Parkinson’s and is increasingly irascible. Only Megan, (Alexandra Gilbreath) his third wife, can deal with his care and his moods.

Each of his children have their turn with the patriarch. Dot (Lisa Dillon) is anxious about her inheritance. She needs the money. Her daughter Lily (Nancy Allsop) suffers from a rare disease, the titular fever syndrome.

Thomas (Alex Waldmann) is concerned that his father has never taken him or his art seriously. His twin brother Anthony (Sam Marks), seems the most carefree of the siblings, the father’s favourite, but he has his own secrets.

This is very much an ensemble play. The characters are carefully rounded with clear motivations, and Zegerman (who also treads the boards) ensures each actor is given the opportunity to shine. But the downside is that The Fever Syndrome is overlong with too many competing plot strands.

Several aspects of the plot are predictable. When Dot proclaims that Anthony’s not coming, “he’s always a no-show”, we guess he’ll make a grand entrance a few scenes later. After Lily overhears her mum saying she’d like a healthy child, we know there’ll be a crisis. When we learn Anthony has invested in cryptocurrencies we think “uh-oh”.

Similarly, it’s clear early on that the family is dysfunctional, the father is in decline, and everyone’s worried about Lily; the tension is diluted and there’s little to propel the drama.

There are compensations. It’s beautifully staged by Roxana Silbert. Lizzie Clachan’s clever, multi-level set – each room demarcated by a giant gilt picture frame – suggests a town house that has seen better days. Lindsay is always arresting to watch and the stellar cast give it their all.

Until April 30
hampsteadtheatre.com

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