The Fever Syndrome: 'A jam-packed beast of a play'

PRODUCTION PHOTOS OF THE FEVER SYNDROME, BY ALEXIS ZEGERMAN, DIRECTED BY ROXANA SILBERT - Taken at H

The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Ellie Kurttz

The Fever Syndrome 
Hampstead Theatre
A jam-packed beast of a play 
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Alexis Zegerman’s jam-packed The Fever Syndrome is a beast of a play.

Like Jesse Armstrong with HBO’s Succession, Zegerman explores the antics of a dysfunctional New York family – here the scientific elite – who gather to honour their patriarch, Richard Myers, a pioneering IVF scientist about to receive a lifetime award. He also has Parkinson’s disease which triggers an appropriately show-stealing performance from Robert Lindsay.

Domestic squabbles over financial inheritance jostle with questions about the ethics of genetic engineering.

Such weighty matters can’t be dealt with quickly and director Roxana Silbert ensures the first half feels pacey as Myers’ children rock up to Lizzie Clachan’s wonderful cross-section of a dolls-house set. First is uptight Dot (Lisa Dillon) a science journalist with a disgraced researcher husband – he plagiarized a PHD paper – and a mobile-phone addicted teenage daughter whose rare genetic condition causes seizures – the fever syndrome of the title.

Myers’ garrulous third wife Megan, whose self-pity and frustrations manifest as flirtatious bonhomie in a spot-on performance by Alexandra Gilbreath, greets them. Next comes artist Thomas (Alex Waldman) with his ex-marine boyfriend followed by Thomas’ twin brother, Anthony (Sam Marks), a cryptocurrency investor.

PRODUCTION PHOTOS OF THE FEVER SYNDROME, BY ALEXIS ZEGERMAN, DIRECTED BY ROXANA SILBERT - Taken at H

Charlotte Pourret Wythe and Robert Lindsay in The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Ellie Kurttz

More elements overload the second half. Dot is livid about profligate domestic decisions – a stairlift fitted in lieu of selling up the Manhattan brownstone – but then she wants cash to help her unfreeze some embryos. Thomas wants proper recognition for his art from his brilliant father. And Anthony? Well, Megan’s lonely nights have clouded her judgments about her glamorous stepson.

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As for the ghostly apparitions of Dot as a child, is Myers hallucinating because of the medication or does he have a guilty conscience about his demoralizing parenting?

After the banter and family bullying, brilliantly encapsulated in the Tom Lehrer song about a plagiarizing mathematician lustily performed by Anthony, Zegerman side steps provocative questions about the limits of science – who can blame her – but opts, disappointingly, for woolly sentiment.

Lindsay gives an exceptionally detailed physical performance and it's in these quieter moments that the tragedy of a diminished titan finds powerful expression.

PRODUCTION PHOTOS OF THE FEVER SYNDROME, BY ALEXIS ZEGERMAN, DIRECTED BY ROXANA SILBERT - Taken at H

Sam Marks and Lisa Dillon in The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre - Credit: Ellie Kurttz

The Fever Syndrome is at Hampstead Theatre until April 30.