Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud
Noël Coward’s biting comedy of sexual manners never goes out of date. Set in an English village in the 1930s, it matters terribly what people might think. Being haunted by a dead wife is embarrassing enough, but where will it all end, and will the hapless medium who conjured up the ill-mannered spirit figure out how to send her back without hurting her feelings and causing more mischief?
One of the great comedy parts in theatre is Madame Arcati, the psychic medium who is just as surprised as anyone at her powers to summon beings from the afterlife. Any actress has to be considerably on the ball to play dotty, and Angela Lansbury brings wonderful qualities and timing to the role.
Lansbury is now in her late 80s, and has been a working actress for decades, memorably as Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, the longest running detective drama on TV. She has also spent many years in the theatre, winning many awards, including one for her Broadway performance of Madame Arcarti. By now this is a woman who knows just about everything there is to know about how to be onstage and make an audience believe anything. The part requires little dances and eccentricities when the character is preparing to go into a trance, delivered with great aplomb.
The rest of the cast splendidly keep up with Lansbury in this wordy and witty play. Jemima Rooper plays Elvira the naughty ghost, and Janie Dee as the uptight current and live wife is a marvellous picture of clipped annoyance. Patsy Ferran plays the maid Edith with hilarious physical comedy and timing, which makes her professional debut memorable. Serena Williams as Mrs Bradman, the doctor’s wife who continually puts her foot in it, is a brilliant foil for some of the most withering looks from Madame Arcarti. Charles Edwards as Charles, the husband whose wives, dead or alive, are the bane of his life, plays him as just the right sort of fellow who admits having been henpecked all his life, but has rather enjoyed it.
Actors and drama students young and old shouldn’t miss out on this masterclass by Lansbury, nor should anyone who has a feeling for the theatre and enjoys a great and funny play with acting royalty in full flow.
Photos: Johan Persson
Blithe Spirit is on at the Gielgud Theatre until 7th June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.