When I heard that Angela Lansbury was appearing at the age of 89 as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Princess of Wales Theatre, I was thrilled beyond belief. Such an epic and prolific 70-year career she has had in film, television and live theatre. I have fond memories of sitting beside my mother in the 80’s watching episodes of Murder She Wrote. When Lansbury took the stage and uttered her first line, I felt as though I was seeing a long, lost friend.
Age has not affected Lansbury’s tremendous gift. Her talent shines as brightly as ever. She delivered Noel Coward’s razor sharp barbs impeccably. Her voice was clear and strong and she bounced about the stage doing a humourous conjuring dance effortlessly. I was somewhat nervous when I read that Lansbury was going to be using an earpiece in case there was a lapse in memory. She was pace perfect so it is unlikely she has had to rely on this back up plan. She is an inspiration and delight.
This Mirvish production of Blithe Spirit is highly enjoyable, with never a dull moment. The cast is mainly comprised of British actors and this helps to create the realism of 1940’s aristocratic Britain. The script was expertly mined for every ounce of dry wit that Coward so deliciously serves. Wit that is as dry as the martinis he likes to reference in his scripts.
The play centers around successful novelist Charles Condomine. He is writing a novel about the occult and decides to hold a séance in his home. His wife Ruth and a couple, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, all decide to take part. It is clear that the eccentric medium Madame Arcati is an utter flake and that the entire proceeding is a sham.
Sham or not, somehow Charles’ first wife Elvira (dead now for seven years we are told) has been summoned. Only Charles can see Elvira and his jealous current wife Ruth does not believe she exists. Some of my favorite dialogue is when Charles is speaking to Elvira but Ruth thinks what he is saying is directed at her. I won’t give the rest of the plot away but when ghosts and crazy mediums and a bumbling housemaid are involved, let’s just say it comedy will ensue.
Michael Blakemore creates a slick, polished, expertly executed piece of theatre. Every actor shines in this production. So much character detail is on display. So many small touches that make the audience feel as though they are sitting right in the living space with the characters.
Although all the actors are uniformly great, individual credit goes to Susan Louise O’Connor for her inspired take on Edith the
bumbling housemaid. When one is given a script and most of the lines are “No Sir,” “Yes Sir,” “No Madame,” “Yes Madame,” there is an extraordinary challenge to make that character stand out. O’Connor captures audience focus every time she takes the stage, with an especially brilliant moment where she balances her body on the back of a chair while she picks up a tray.
Simon Higlett created a lush, airy set. Mark Jonathan’s lighting is fantastic, moving between bright daylight, storms, and ghostly apparitions flawlessly. The costumes were gorgeous and it was so enjoyable to watch the characters in the production change from one elegant outfit to the next. In the programme, I can only find the credit for Angela Lansbury’s costumes, Martin Pakledinaz but it is unclear who created the rest of the wonderful costumes.
I also liked the use of a projection, which was reminiscent of a silent film to indicate a new scene with a short description of the upcoming scene while listening to the lovely vocals by Christine Ebersole.
I highly recommend this light and funny production to warm you up on these cold winter nights. Blithe Spirit is on stage until March 15th.