Paul Johnson | 28 Oct 2019 13:59pm
The Tower Theatre’s current production, Blithe Spirit, grabs you immediately the lights come up with the sumptuous warmth and colour of the set that fills every nook and cranny of the stage. From the photographs on the wall to the crystal decanter, the bone china tea set to the old gramophone, the Turkish rug to the leather-bound books – you are invited into a 1930s, comfortable drawing room with some successful attempts at style and modest luxury, along with a bungling house maid who ends up being crucial to the plot. Jude Chalk and the production team have done a wonderful job of creating a permanent backdrop for the ensuing drama.
Noel Coward’s favourite play, was written in six days when he slipped off to Wales during the Blitz in 1941. He wrote in his diary of his new idea that he thought it would be a “very gay, superficial comedy about a ghost. Feel it may be good.” Once finished, it was first seen at the Opera House, Manchester in May 1941, moving to Leeds before its opening at the Piccadilly Theatre on 3rd July with Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati. It was a rounding success with nearly 2,000 performances by the time it moved to Broadway. It then toured during the war with Coward often in the cast and in 1945, David Lean made it into a film starring Rex Harrison and Rutherford returning as the sardonic medium. It is a celestial romp that doesn’t ‘date’ or lose its bite with the ghost of Charles’ ex-wife, Elvira, being accidentally summoned during a séance. Charles’ second wife Ruth, becomes increasingly irritated with Elvira, who she cannot see or hear. Charles adds to the comedy by beginning to enjoy the fact he has two wives, ending in a dramatic climax with their desperate attempts to get rid of one another.
David Hankinson skillfully flits around his two wives gracefully, shifting between witticisms, frantic outbursts and loving remarks in the role of Charles Condomine. The character is clearly an alter-ego of Coward himself, evident in his signature red silk dressing gown and charming swagger.
Ruth, played by Anna Fiorentini, presents the prim, strait-laced second wife, with a trimmed and clipped snappiness that perfectly contrasts with her adversary, Elvira’s, played by Sophie King, languid elegance as she floats around the drawing room, upsetting the harmony. The scenes where Ruth is neither able to see or hear Elvira are very amusing and the speed of their insults to one another is played out beautifully, heightening the comedy. With Charles in the middle, acting as Arbitrator, the three actors perfectly orchestrate this battle of words and quips to the climax.
Dan Usztan who has directed this sharp and delightful piece of theatre, has the actors moving about the stage keeping a swift and nimble pace to reflect the clever dialogue. Madame Arcati, the medium and played by Alison Liney, is generally poised in the middle of room conducting the seances and the action with a strong presence and rich voice that carries round the theatre. She is hilarious as she collapses into the trance which will enable her to see the spirits, contrasting with her throw away comments on the philosophy of life.
The other actors, Myriam Laurent as Edith, Alistair Maydon as Dr. Bradman and Louisa Shindle as Mrs. Bradman, all add to the comedy with good characterization all round. A particular thumbs up to the costume design, always reliably put together by Linda Twidale whose clothes complement the gorgeous set design.
This tricky though brilliant comic work has been marvelously directed by Dan Usztan and should definitely be seen before it comes off on Saturday, 2nd November.
- : admin
- : 25/10/2019