Saturday, 19 April 2014

'Blithe Spirit' at the Gielgud Theatre

Have you been to see 'Blithe Spirit' with Angela Lansbury yet? No? What on earth are you waiting for? Scoot on over to the Gielgud Theatre as quick as your legs (and public transport) can carry you and get prepared for some big ole laughs, chortles and general jolliment. Yes, I enjoyed it - I even laughed out loud!

Miss Lansbury hasn't played in the West End for decades so that alone makes this worth seeing and she is well worth seeing. We managed to get tickets in the sixth row right in the middle so had an excellent view of the proceedings. I've never seen this play on stage but saw the film years ago so, although not terribly familiar with it, am reasonably aware of the central plot. Having said that, I totally forgot the surprise ending so won't spoil it for you.

It's the tale of a writer and his wife (Charles Edwards and Janie Dee) who live in a nice country house with the requisite servants for the late 1930s. They're hosting a small dinner party after which the local medium (Angela Lansbury) has been invited to demonstrate her powers. Unbeknown to her, he's going to write a book about a fraudulent medium so wants some first hand observations to include in the book. She accidentally summons the ghost of his first wife (Jemima Rooper) who only he can see or hear which leads to all sorts of confusion and mayhem. Then the medium is invited back to try to undo her work... and that's where it gets complicated.

I don't know why I'm always so surprised when I enjoy a Noel Coward play but I am. I should have learned by now really. There are the usual witty exchanges between characters who are all terribly urbane and worldly, of course, as well as some more knock about fun when the ghost appears and vases start floating in the air. It's all really good fun and a well constructed play with a nice set of a country drawing room with comfy-looking furniture and big curtains just waiting to billow in the ghostly breeze.

Janie Dee (who I saw a couple of months ago in a Sondheim show at the St James's Theatre) was on top form with an accent that wouldn't just cut glass, it could easily cut a diamond or two. Her timing was excellent as she milked every scene for every laugh as she swished around in her evening dress and day-time skirts. She looked right in character and would fit into a 1930s drawing room effortlessly. Charles Edwards was also good but a little restrained next to the perfect pitch of Janie. She also out-acted Jemima Rooper who was flouncy and pouty throughout - her character as the ghost of the first wife, obviously - but Jemima didn't quite stand up against the rest of the cast.

It was also nice to see the rather portly Simon Jones as the Doctor. To me, of course, he will always be Arthur Dent in his dressing gown in the TV series of 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. Nice to see him again.

Angela Lansbury was, of course, terrific as the dotty medium with her over the top wardrobe and facial expressions. She's played this role before of course (and I don't mean on Broadway) when she played the drunken writer of salacious novels in the film 'Death on the Nile'. This was Angela having fun and enjoying herself going slightly over the top in a role in which she'd not only allowed to go over the top but is positively encouraged to do so. Whether going into a trance or talking to thin air thinking she's talking to the ghost who's actually behind her, she did it all with great comic timing and cheeky sparkle. She knows she's over the top and is sharing the joke with us. She's a delight!

I'd forgotten about the ending so won't spoil it for you if you plan to go - and you should.  It's a great production with a lavish set and costumes, all designed to entertain. A nice touch when the final curtain went down was to project a portrait of Noel Coward onto the  curtain as we all left. Well done whoever thought of that.

An added bonus was that I was definitely in the younger half of the audience on the night. Some old-time fans of Miss Lansbury were obviously out in force to see her again, such as the white haired geezer behind me who laughed every time she raised an eyebrow. Now that's loyalty.

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