It doesn’t take a fortune teller to note that the stars are perfectly aligned for Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Theatre Royal Bath to be a huge success. Here we have one of the master storyteller’s most popular and successful plays, with a wonderful cast and a fabulous theatre. No wonder that there wasn’t a spare seat at last night’s performance.
Right from the very beginning this production grabs the audience’s attention with a fabulous stage set showing the living room and library of Charles Condomine’s house in Kent. The play starts with Charles and his wife, Ruth, preparing for a dinner party with their friends, Dr Bradman and his wife, along with local clairvoyant Madame Arcati. Charles has brought everyone together for a little light fun and to research his new novel. However, things soon take a very strange turn indeed!
Lisa Dillon is absolutely superb at Ruth, thoroughly convincing as the typical 1940’s middle class housewife, focusing her efforts on being a house proud and loving wife, while also training the new maid, Edith, in the fineries of her role. Throughout, her exchanges with Geoffrey Streatfeild as Charles, are sharp and witty, just as you would expect from Mr Coward, with Dillon playing the part with perfect weight and character.
Of course, the grand name of the production is comedienne and actor Jennifer Saunders at Madame Arcati and yes, she is so deserved of the spotlight. From her first appearance on stage, Saunder’s comedic timing and portrayal of the central character is hilarious and faultless. Yes, Madame Arcati is an over-the-top character and as such, it must be tempting to work on every tempting cliché to stereotype of the dotty clairvoyant, but instead we’re presented with a character who we can all recognise in people we’ve met in life and never forgotten. Her facial expressions, grand gestures and awkward stances are typical of a clever characterisation, all together with a wonderful presence, both within the plot and as a stage character. An absolute joy…
Throughout, the plot develops and unfolds beautifully, with Madame Arcati unwittingly summoning up the ghost of Charles first wife, Elvira, who only Charles can see, and his wife’s efforts to deal with the situation and send Elvira back to land of the dead. Alongside the central plot, the audience is also treated to a wonderful view of Coward’s portrayal of middle class 1940s life, complete with its strict etiquette, rules and secret dalliances.
This is a hugely enjoyable and wonderfully performed production of Blithe Spirit, and certainly to be recommended.
Blithe Spirit runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until 6 July. For more details, click here