Lindsay Duncan taken ill onstage, during matinee of Hay Fever – how is she doing?

Heard the very sad news this evening (from my parents, who were in the audience) that the actress Lindsay Duncan was taken ill onstage today, during the matinee of Hay Fever at the Noel Coward Theatre. After needing three successive prompts (until which she’d been incredibly good, apparently, but the action had seemed oddly slow), Miss Duncan apologised to the audience that she couldn’t go on. She held out her hand to Kevin R McNally, who plays her husband, and he led her from the stage (other cast members followed). The curtain was brought down, and subsequently two announcements were made (onstage) by the House Manager, confirming Miss Duncan’s illness. The play resumed with Miss Duncan’s understudy in the role of Judith Bliss. Apparently, Rosalind Cressy was also splendid, and duly received special recognition at the curtain call.

I’ve been checking twitter and news sources for any information/updates on Lindsay Duncan’s condition, but to no avail. If anyone does know, I’d be ever so grateful – she’s the most wonderful actress, and (way back when) someone with whom my mother worked at Stratford. I’ve loved her performances since I was a small child, too, but above all it’s just horrific to imagine somebody so talented & so professional being so unwell.

Neither of my parents, in all their years on both sides of the curtain, had ever seen anything like it; apparently, it was very upsetting and I’m glad I wasn’t there. I have huge sympathy for everyone involved and hope Miss Duncan is better soon. Again, if anyone does know (or, indeed, sees Hay Fever tonight/over the next few days), I’d be really glad to hear how she’s doing.


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Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.

12 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thanks for the news. I’m seeing Hay Fever next Saturday, so I hope Ms Duncan will be all right by then, or that she will be replaced by her understudy. In any case I don’t want her to go back on stage whilst she’s still ill!

    Kevin McNally is (infrequently) on Twitter as @exkevinmcnally. I hope he will be able to give more information.


  2. I’m sure that if she’s not better, Cressy will be splendid – but yes, I share your attitude absolutely! Apparently some cretins sitting behind my parents didn’t… which only seems the more heartless given that they’d seen her struggle, apologise and leave the stage, rather than simply turning up to the theatre to find her off sick.

    I have followed the twitter account – thanks for that – and hope there is some news at some point. I should say that my parents adored the production despite the upheaval.


  3. We were in the front row of the circle when this occurred. The play had been lacking the normal sparkle, very few laughs from the audience, but that may have been this particular matinee audience that was just not so well versed in Coward’s brand of humour, or it could have been because the cast sensed Ms Duncan’s growing unease. I read she had a bad moment at a previous performance after the difficulty of the scene where she plays the piano and sings in French (she admits she can do neither) and that she had difficulty recovering her stride after that….the forgetting of lines incident came shortly after that scene which is what I believe happened again this time, but this time she was unable to recover. What I do know is that she was brilliant as Judith Bliss, but the true applause is for Rosalind Cressy, who did a remarkable job as understudy…the whole incident showed both the difficulty and professionalism of acting. There was a further incident as Olivia Coleman hurt her leg and limped after a collapsing settee incident. She must have been in great pain but as a true professional she carried on to the end. It was one of those performances that highlighted the sheer talent and dedication of all the players. A great performance and our thanks to the acting team (and we wish Ms Duncan a speedy recovery)


    • My parents were sitting in the stalls; much of what you say is similar to their account. I don’t know about the French/singing factor. Poor Olivia Coleman! Although, as I’ve said, I was glad not to see something as distress as Miss Duncan being taken ill, I’m very sorry to have missed Coleman & Duncan onstage together (I think Coleman is fabulous & so under-used e.g. on TV). I also have soft spots for both McNally and Jeremy Northam. I don’t think I’ll get to see the show (time/money/availability, but mostly the second), which is a terrible shame.

      The timing was particularly bad on a day with 2 shows, of course! But I like to think that at least Rosalind Cressy might have had time to ring family/friends and get them into house seats to see her play Judith Bliss in the evening.


  4. We were in te royal circle, have to say Miss Duncan was strangely off all night, made for a muted play and although RC did a sterling job, and her timing was clearly better, she unsurprisingly lacked gravitas. Still it made for an interesting night and i hope Miss D is mentally and physically well this Sunday. Congrats to the rest of the cast for carrying on so professionally


  5. I was in the stalls with some friends for the matinee in which Ms Duncan was taken ill. We had been really enjoying the play, though had noticed one or two little ‘halting’ episodes. We thought the understudy did remarkably well, giving her own personality and interpretation to the role, and of course the rest of the cast were brilliant. We hadn’t realised poor Olivia Coleman had really hurt herself – we thought it was all part of that ‘bit of business’ with the collapsing couch! I hope she is better now too. Does anyone know?
    I’d like to sayn though, that with all that, we still very much enjoyed the play. I don’t tweet, so if anyone is in touch with the cast, please give them my compliments and thanks!


  6. I’ve been at the show with a friend two times last week. Lindsay Duncan played so very good both times. That she was ill just some days before, we heard until after the first show and it was so good. Both of us went to the show just to see her, if we had heard, she was ill, we would had been so afraid not seeing her. Thanks for the cheaper “Day seats”, 25£ first row, less than 1 meter Lindsay Duncan was standing in front of us und I still cannot believe it. Acting and her looking was so very good, that two days I will never forget, first row – still cannot believe it, two times so near sitting while Mrs Duncan acting live on stage. Best days, best week! If I would live in London, I’d go there so much more times. Very good play! Very good actors!


  7. I saw the Play two times last week too. Both times we (I was there with a freind) had good seats, one time (it was the 2nd time we saw the Play) we had seats in the first row too =) When I saw the play, both times, Mrs Duncan was magnificent, at the time I had no idea she was ill before….when I later heard Mrs. Duncan was ill some days before, it really touched me. and I was sorry to hear about that =(
    I’m glad she is fine again! She is a wonderful actress! very special to me. loved ‘Hay Fever’!


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