Ever since Angela Lansbury won a Tony Award for playing Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s ghostly comedy in 2009, there has been much speculation as to whether she would bring the role to the West End and the production has finally arrived this month (press night is next Tuesday 18th), marking Dame Lansbury’s first West End role in 40 years at the age of 88!
Blithe Spirit is a rather old fashioned comedy and you can easily imagine sitting in the theatre decades ago watching this very production. Novelist Charles Condomine invites a medium Madame Arcati to dinner with his wife Ruth and their friends to help with his research for a new crime novel. However during a seance Arcati inadvertently summons the spirit of Charles’s first wife Elvira, who only Charles can see and hear, with hilarious consequences.
Michael Blakemore’s production is a fun night at the theatre for young and old alike. The play itself is very well structured by Coward and has some wonderfully funny dialogue. The set is also beautifully designed by Simon Higlett. The big draw for the audience is clearly Angela Lansbury and I did find the clapping after every scene she was in a little annoying, but committing to a three month run at almost 90 she has probably earned it! She is very good in the role, bringing the eccentric Arcati to life wonderfully on stage and her trance dance is a highlight. She plays off the other actors to maximise the comic timing of the piece and it is thrilling to see a legend of stage and screen back in the West End.
However despite the focus of some of the audience on just her, what I enjoyed most about this production was the quality of the cast as a whole. Simon Jones and Serena Evans serve the play well as Condomine’s friends and Patsy Ferran is brilliantly funny as the maid Edith. Janie Dee is superb as Ruth, whose frustration with Elvira once she realises she isn’t all in her husband’s mind is lovely to watch. As Elvira, Jemima Rooper brings a contemporary feel to the mischievous spirit, which is a great contrast to Ruth. For me, the night however belongs to Charles Edwards as Condomine. His comic timing is superb and I can’t think of anyone more suited for the role. He also has fantastic chemistry with both Janie Dee and Jemima Rooper, which is incredibly enjoyable to watch.
As much as I enjoyed this production and the performances I do think that the inflated ticket prices for this show are ridiculous and I think this may explain why as yet this has not sold out. In particular I think selling the front row (normally reserved for day seats) at not just full price, but at a premium price of £92 is far too high. The row was not full last night either and I’m sure the actors would rather it be filled with enthusiastic audience members who have made the effort to queue up early to buy a ticket than have it partially empty.
I would therefore strongly recommend making the effort to acquire one of the £10 day seats if you can, as they are substantially cheaper than most seats for this production. There are only 10 for each show, two at either end of the front row (I’m not sure where the rest are I’m afraid) but as the stage is quite low this really is fantastic value. If you can, go for A6 or A7 as that is the side of the stage on which the seance happens. I arrived at 8:15 a.m. yesterday and was 2nd in the queue but as it’s hard to say for sure what time to get there, keep an eye on the What’s On Stage forum thread on the show for a better guide as to how early the queue is starting, especially as the run goes on.
Overall this is an old fashioned fun night out at the theatre to see a very British play with a superb cast, made all the better when you only pay £10!
Blithe Spirit is running at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue until 7th June 2014. For more information and to book tickets, visit the shows website at: http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/BlitheSpirit/BlitheSpirit.asp