Review: The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre - witty remarks amid a cacophony of themes
Modern families, money and the morals of genetics are just a few of the narrative tensions in Alexis Zegerman's play The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre.
The family at the centre of the story is that of Richard Myers (Robert Lindsay), an eminent geneticist who now has Parkinson's Disease. He lives in a brownstone in Manhatten with his third wife, Megan (Alexandra Gilbreath), who does her best to care for him.
His grown-up children have returned home to see him presented with a prestigious science award.
His eldest child by his first wife is Dot (Lisa Dillon), who has her husband and 12-year daughter in tow. She is sharp, driven and highly protective of her daughter, who has a rare auto-inflammatory condition called the Fever Syndrome.
Then there are the twins Anthony (Sam Marks) and Thomas (Alex Waldmann) by his second wife. Anthony is charismatic, charming, and an opportunistic investor in Silicon Valley - his latest venture is cryptocurrencies. He's the favourite despite his rare appearances at family gatherings.
Thomas is an artist and has his boyfriend with him. He's the odd one out, not being adept at science and desperately wants approval.
Designer Lizzie Clachan brilliantly recreates the brownstone, a sliced through section showing upper floors with the action shifting from room to room depending on where people are in the house.
Given the family of half-siblings, stepmother and cantankerous father are all under one roof, it doesn't take long before sniping and bickering starts.
Who had the most difficult upbringing, Megan's ability to care for Richard and where he should live, what is going to happen to the house, and his money are just a few bones of contention.
There is also relationship strife between Dot and her husband - the former wants another child but wants to screen frozen eggs for any illnesses first. And there is relationship strife between Thomas and his boyfriend - the latter wants to get married and have children.
Meanwhile, Anthony is 'dutifully' comforting Megan, who is tired from caring for her husband and feeling a bit unloved.
By the interval, it's reached a gentle simmer of jibes and huffs, but in the second half, it quickly accelerates to full-blown yelling, to the point where it feels like you are stepping from one argument straight into another.
The cast does a great job teasing out the moments of sharp humour in Zegerman's writing, with some laugh out loud moments.
But The Fever Syndrome is so over-stuffed with themes that nothing gets properly explored, and any takeaways are lost in the cacophony of yelling matches.
Aaron Sorkin said in an interview that protagonists have to get to the end of a story having changed, and there is change, but it feels like a side note slotted in right at the end.
I'm giving The Fever Syndrome ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
The Fever Syndrome, Hampstead Theatre
Written by Alexis Zegerman
Directed by Roxana Silbert
Running time: Two hours and forty minutes, including an interval
Booking until April 30; for details and tickets, head to Hampstead Theatre's website.
Some more reviews:
The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing
Under The Radar, Old Red Lion - mismatched and odd
The Collaboration, Young Vic - Jeremy Pope and Paul Bettany had me on my feet
PS if you saw my Instagram post from press night, the thesp spot I alluded to was Matthew MacFadyen and the scene I depicted was from Pride and Prejudice. Also spotted at the theatre: Director Mike Leigh and Coronation Street's Angela Griffin.