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Blithe Spirit

by on 18 February 2020

A Shot of Spirits

Blithe Spirit

by Noël Coward

Theatre Royal Bath at Richmond Theatre until 22nd February, then on tour until 11th April

Review by Melissa Syversen

The first thing that strikes you as the curtain rises on Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Noël Cowards classic Blithe Spirit is the sumptuous set designed by Anthony Ward. It is clear that this is not your standard touring production, where allowances have been made for easy transport. A hat must be tipped to the stage crew who do the weekly get ins and get outs as the production moves around the country.

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A favourite of the stage, Blithe Spirit has been produced multiple times in the West End and on Broadway since its premiere and attracts some of the best loved performers such as Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Joanna Lumley. And though it is almost eighty years old, Cowards play remains a refreshingly flippant comedy about death, loss and the supernatural. Written at the height of the Second World War and The Blitz, you can appreciate how 1941 audiences must have relished in the dark humour and elements of the spiritualist movement still fresh in their minds during a time when death must have felt much more immediate.

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The plot of the play is deceptively simple: Charles Condomine, wishing to gain some insight into the work of mediums for his new book, arrange a séance with the unconventional medium Madame Arcati. After a seemingly unsuccessful evening, Charles and his second wife Ruth discover that Madame Arcati have accidentally summoned and manifested Elvira, Charles deceased first wife. Thus, as with any classic Noël Coward comedy, chaos and wit ensues. Geoffrey Streatfield is satisfactory as Charles Condomine, but doesn’t quite manage the fine line delivery as he did with his turn in Congreve’s Blithe Spirit-085The Way of the World at The Donmar Warehouse last year. Lisa Dillon, as Charles second wife Ruth, is much more successful finding the comic nuance within the given circumstances, jumping from vulnerability to perfectly executed domestic antagonism when faced with the glamorous ghost of her husband’s first wife.

Jennifer Saunders though, a certified living comedy legend in her own right, was made to plaBlithe Spirit-146y the psychic Madame Arcati. In Saunders’ capable hands, Madame Arcati is a surprisingly homely and earthy woman, played as well intentioned village eccentric, who is serious about carrying on the family business. That said, I think everyone in the audience at Richmond Theatre yesterday would agree that the show well and truly belonged to Rose Wardlaw as Edith, a twitchy parlour maid with unexpected gifts. Rare is the gift to make an audience laugh by just walking passed an open door, but Wardlaw has it in spades.

There is nothing especially wrong with director Richard Eyre’s take on Blithe Spirit , but it never quite reaches the comic heights and belly laughs of say, the Old Vic production of Present Laughter last year. That said, it is game and a sturdy take on a classic, made all the more enjoyable thanks to Saunders and Wardlaw’s excellent comic turns.

Melissa Syversen
February 2020

Photography by Nobby Clark

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