Hampstead stages tense family drama of 'legacy deceit and anger'
- Credit: Ellie Kurttz
An ailing wealthy patriarch and a fractious, dysfunctional family gathering in Manhattan to see who inherits.
It could be the set up for Netflix drama Succession, but Alexis Zegerman's The Fever Syndrome is a tense family drama at Hampstead Theatre.
Robert Lindsay, who plays IVF pioneer Richard Myers, compares it to great American plays by the likes of Arthur Miller.
"She wrote this five years before Succession but it does have the feel of it," he says. "I read the script and was shocked that she was a young woman, I assumed it was written by a major American playwright. It's an extraordinary play like those great family dramas of legacy, deceit and anger that are such powerful and resonant pieces."
The family disputes memories and debate polarised opinions - including who will inherit Prof Myers' wealth and prestigious scientific institution. Responsible for thousands of births, he is suffering from Parkinson's Disease and facing his mortality.
"He's become very abrasive with his condition and attitude towards people - that can be the effect when men lose their status and profession. He is going through this awful crisis and we see his past unravelling through the eyes of his daughter who haunts him as a young girl and makes him realise he wasn't actually a very good father. That makes the play incredibly moving."
Myers' work on stem cell research has led to accusations of creating designer babies and the withdrawal of funding. But his own daughter has a child with a rare genetic disorder which provokes extreme bouts of fever - The Fever Syndrome of the title - and asks him to help her have a child free of it.
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"He's angry with the establishment, with people who despise science, and with politicians who have interfered too much," adds Lindsay.
"He says we weren't tampering with DNA but creating life and you have to be elitist, arrogant and tenacious or you won't get scientific progress like heart transplants. He feels misunderstood. Like all angry men, life catches up with him and he tries for redemption."
The My Family and Citizen Smith actor is a rare all rounder whose career spans sit-coms, Shakespeare, BAFTA winning TV dramas and singing and hoofing in musical theatre - the 72-year-old is currently Olivier nominated for his turn as Moonface Martin in the Barbican's Anything Goes, after winning twice previously for Me and My Girl and Oliver!
"I love the feedback you get from the audience in theatre, you get this incredible adrenaline rush - those uniform moments of emotion coming from stage to audience - that you can't experience in any other medium."
Of the Olivier nomination he says "it's always nice to be recognised" especially for a show that was stop start due to Covid.
"It was very odd, we never knew whether we were going to open on time or complete the run. But opening night was without doubt one of the most emotional nights in a theatre. It was the first major production to open and as the orchestra struck up, the audience cheered and everyone was weeping backstage. We couldn't believe we were back. The amazing camaraderie and support you get backstage is why I love it so much."
The Fever Syndrome has also been delayed due to Covid: "We are getting used to it by now. It's strange times for everyone. You just roll with it," says Lindsay, who puts the variety of his career down to enjoying all aspects of the business: "I love it. I've been a little cavalier in terms of decisions - sometimes you have to balance career with the reality of paying the mortgage - but I love what we do. When I do a job I am very concentrated and committed. I do research. If I am dancing, I take it seriously and get physically fit. I certainly can't do DIY and I'm not the greatest driver, but in my imagination I feel I can do anything and my imagination is very powerful."
The Fever Syndrome runs at Hampstead Theatre until April 30. Visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2022/the-fever-syndrome/