Blithe Spirit review - March 2014

It’s easy to see why Angela caused such a stir across the pond; she was born to play Madame Arcati!

Hoping along to the Gielgud Theatre is always a rather glamorous affair; the architecture is beautiful and it has one of my favourite theatre bars in the West End (I am a sucker for a good mezzanine and a sparkly chandelier!) Therefore not only was I rather excited to be sitting in the lush Stalls of the plush theatre, I was very excited to be accompanied by the great and powerful Ms. Angela Lansbury!

Although written and usually set in the 1940’s, Noel Coward’s storyline is timeless and undeniably comic; man conducts research for a book by inviting crazy psychic lady into house, man accidentally summons spirit of ex wife thus royally peeing off current wife, crazy psychic lady has trouble undoing the problem. Sounds like a recipe for success? It is!

I had serious pangs of Broadway based envy when the show ran in New York in 2009, earning Lady Lansbury a well deserved Tony Award. But at just 20 years old and in full time education at the time, I had neither the funds nor the time to pay her a visit. But hurrah, all good things come to those that wait; I am delighted to have seen the veteran actress do her thing for the first time in nearly 40 years!

It’s easy to see why Angela caused such a stir across the pond; she was born to play Madame Arcati! She plays the role with the perfect blend of kookiness, eccentricity, craziness and naivety. She didn’t surcumb to the urge to over cook the role, which is often the case with Arcati. She was like a brilliant mystic Nanna and I truly adored every second of her on stage, as did the rest of the audience who whooped and cheered at the mere sight of her!

With all attention focused on Angela, some of the other cast members run the risk of being slightly forgettable. Jemima Rooper as Elvira managed to be entirely upstaged by her terrible wig! Seriously, did somebody lose the proper wig, or is that actually what the costume department had in mind? Perhaps the budget was spent in delightful final scene…

That said, whilst  it is hard to outshine the brightest star on stage, I did find Janie Dee to be a fabulous Ruth. She carried the role with complete believability and was the catalyst for much of the humour in both acts. Her reactions to the wild ways of Madame Arcati and her bickering with the invisible ghost of Elveria were some of the best moments of the show, second only to Lansbury’s seyance and penchant for cucumber sandwiches.

My only other slight issue in what was undoubtedly a very enjoyable show is that the production team didn’t really try and DO anything with the piece, it was all very textbook Coward and very similar to other interpretations of the play I have seen in the past. I guess if it ain't broke, don’t fix it, or so the saying goes…it just would have been nice to see things done a little differently, especially with such acting royalty as part of the show.

If Lansbury wasn’t part of this production I am not sure it would have been as good as it is, but she is at it therefore it is truly great. I had an absolute hoot and howl and, if I were to take a leaf out of Madame Arcati’s psychic book, I’d predict great success in this show's future. Angela Lansbury deserves an Olivier. Fact.

Blithe Spirit Review
18 March 2014, Gielgud Theatre