Blithe Spirit at the Duke of York’s Theatre
In Blithe Spirit, novelist Charles and second wife Ruth are haunted by the ghost of his first wife Elvira, who is accidentally summoned by eccentric medium Madame Arcati. The classic comedy enjoyed an esteemed run when it premiered in 1941, offering much-needed distraction from the Second World War. But with London’s vibrant theatre scene, how does Richard Eyre’s production stand up in 2020?
Mathew Warchus managed to inject timely relevance into the well received Present Laughter last year, proving Coward capable of still enthralling and entertaining audiences today. Eyre’s production, on the other hand, feels archaic and disappointingly lacklustre. Although this sort of humour has a degree of innocent comfort about it, one has to wonder why the wartime play has been revived.
Eyre is loyal to the text, although it does feel drawn out and overlong and would benefit from some trimming. It is, though, aesthetically pleasing; Anthony Ward’s detailed and impressively functional set is of note. Howard Harrison’s carefully considered lighting complements John Leonard’s sound design, culminating in a convincingly otherworldly atmosphere.
Saunders provokes much merriment and mischief, but the novelty of her overly camp performance soon wears off and grows tiresome. Apparently this depiction is toned down since her initial run at Theatre Royal Bath. Geoffrey Streatfeild does his best with the thin material he is provided, but Emma Naomi and Lisa Dillon are the clear highlights here, enjoying excellent chemistry and showcasing superb comic timing. However, there’s not a great deal that can be done to elevate the dated dialogue and what now seem to be very underwritten roles.
Eyre, Saunders and Coward should be a recipe for comic perfection. Sadly the production fails to conjure enough laughs, with the through-the-motions direction lacking in spirit. A rare and ultimately forgettable misfire for Eyre.
Photos: Nobby Clark
Blithe Spirit is at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 5th March until 11th April 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.