Paul Johnson | 08 May 2014 16:49pm
Photo: Phil Gammon
South London Theatre, an extremely prolific theatre in deepest darkest West Norwood (although, in its defence, it is a surprisingly quick bus journey), boasts of putting on over 20 plays a year. With productions ranging from Little Shop of Horrors to Timon of Athens to The Shape of Things, their output is not just abundant, but wide-ranging too.
An ‘improbable farce’ about a psychic who accidentally summons a husband’s late first wife back from the ‘other side’ – much to the chagrin of his very much alive second! – Blithe Spirit concerns reality, perception, love, memory, loyalty, and of course the endless question of where exactly one DOES get good help nowadays.
An amazing set is well used by the actors – in fact one might go so far as to say too well used, as the feeling was that occasionally an actor was moving because they had been told to, or because the stage directions said to do so, which led to some slightly un-natural moments – exacerbated by a tendency to play out to the audience a little too often. It was a little un-nerving to have an actor turn to deliver a line outwards before turning back to the person to whom they are ostensibly speaking, and rather too often two characters would have a conversation with each other while looking at opposite corners of the auditorium.
Lighting and costume were very effective indeed – time of day particularly shown very well, with some stunning early twentieth century outfits on display. There were some very well done effects as well (however to say more would be to spoil things…).
Some bright performances, with a fantastic comic turn from Shelley Talton as Edith, and some quite fabulous ‘I’m not laughing, no I’m not, honestly’ (that anyone who’s ever had to fight off a fit of corpsing will instantly recognise!) from Naomi Liddle as Ruth, mean that a lot of the comedy is very much on target – with a line about how poor Elvira died bringing the house down. Performances could have been pushed a little further and the pace of the play could have been modified a little more – with the more frantic, farcical scenes building to a higher crescendo, and a longer pause here and there – particularly when registering offence or recognition – but the performances on the whole were solid.
That is with the exception of Lucy Fletcher’s Elvira. She was simply exceptional, owning the stage from her first entrance to her final exit, and standing out magnificently against an already very strong cast. She appeared to be loving every moment, with great physicality and a performance that was over the top without slipping into ham – no mean feat!
Jennifer Cooper proved a very popular Madame Arcati, displaying some great physical comedy and timing, and Mark Vinson as Charles Condomine had some lovely moments. Stephanie Urquhart and Guy Jones were a wonderfully Coward-esque couple, indeed there were some nicely underplayed savage touches displayed by the Bradmans that it would have been nice to see from the Condomines. (A line about a choice of gramophone record causing consternation could have been delivered with a little more hiss, for example.)
This charming, very funny production is absolutely worth the trek to West Norwood – and if you are already nearby you have absolutely no excuse! South London Theatre has been granted Heritage Lottery funding to restore its building but needs to get match funding in place to secure the bid, so please do lend them your support – it will be very well rewarded.
Photo: Phil Gammon
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- : 07/05/2014