REVIEW: Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
Curtain up and applause followed for a superb set, designed by the production’s Director, Ian Morson. The period setting and props, along with some wonderful costumes (Gill Jenks), took us back to a time of liberal cocktails before dinner, a maid, posh accents and respectability. Coward of course was poking fun at all of it while at the same time revelling in its style and decadence. His play is a farcical story of ghosts, an eccentric medium, bickering marital relationships and human mortality; no wonder it remains so popular.
First to catch the eye was the cameo performance of Edith the maid, played with joyous and extremely amusing physicality by Kim Howell. Her antics were fully in character and perfectly caught Coward’s love of the ridiculous. Christine Spence as the medium, Madam Arcati, brought a new look to the famous role in splendid attire that included what appeared to be a leather flying cap and goggles; again stunningly ridiculous. Moments of her performance matched exactly Coward’s intentions although at times her confidence seemed to slip – I wanted to encourage – just go for it, you are on the right track.
Delivery of Coward’s pithy, witty and perfectly constructed sentences is hard to master, and in a play with so many of them, it is especially challenging. Claire Bolt as Elvira, the ghost of novelist Charles Condomine’s first wife, found the light conversational style required for the wit and humour of the piece. Her glorious costume swished and rippled around her, and she floated about the stage with commensurate ease, dishing out the put-downs, pouting and teasing effortlessly. Nick Griffith and Susanna Marsden, as Charles and Ruth Condomine, were the centre around which the other characters revolved, cementing the play together, whilst trying to hold on to their increasingly fractious marital relationship. Andrew White and Jayne Watkins were the slightly pompous and neighbourly Dr and Mrs Bradman whose presence added to the growing sense of fun and disaster. Their contribution to the séance scene was particularly effective where the table was seen to move about without obvious shunting and lifting. Spooky.
There were probably more laughs to be had from this play, but making Coward shine is hard work that has to look easy. Complete mastery of every line, dropped into play with absolute confidence and lightness of touch, had to be there throughout. When it was, it was magical.