Theatre Erindale’s production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, directed by Melee Hutton, invites audiences to escape into a world of 1940’s wit and glamour from the moment they enter the theatre. Audience members are greeted in the lobby with a pre-show act performed by second-year theatre students Clara Lambert and Ilana Ben-David. The pair don 1940’s ticket taker outfits, sing period appropriate tunes, and mingle with the audience as they enter the theatre.
Described as “An Improbable Farce in Three Acts,” Blithe Spirit is full of surprises, disappearances, reappearances, and a finale act that threatens to bring the house down (literally). This World War II era comedy follows socialite and mystery novelist Charles Condomine (Lucas Blakley) and his wife Ruth (Gillian Clare), who invite medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati (Kyra Keith) to their home to perform a séance as research for Charles’ next book. In the process, the ghost of Charles’ deceased first wife (Lindsay Wu) is brought back from the dead.
One of the challenges of bringing a WWII era comedy back to life is navigating the cultural changes that have taken place since it was first written. In the directors note for the show, Hutton notes that, “Through modern eyes Blithe Spirit can certainly smack of misogyny. Charles, out of context, can come across as some ‘poor chap’ beleaguered by insufferable women.” Hutton and her cast actively push against this reading of the play and artfully kept all the characters on a level playing field. Coward once said of these characters, “You can’t sympathise with any of them. If there was a heart it would be a sad story.” In this production, that’s not quite true. Each member of the main love triangle manages to be loathsome in one moment and empathetic in the next. Although none of the characters are all together likable, the cast does a fantastic job of making them feel human.
This production avoids pitting Charles as either a victim or a total misogynist, but instead negotiates between these two positions. Charles is tactfully portrayed by Blakley as an opportunist, naively trying to maneuver through a wholly unpredictable situation. Blakely manages to make his character lovable and hateable all at once and adds range to a character that could easily be viewed as one note.
Although Elvira’s motivations are generally questionable, Wu’s energy and talent for physical comedy allows the audience to relish in the chaos that she creates right alongside of her.
Clare dazzles in the role of Ruth. Though Ruth is a woman who requires control and strives for perfection, Clare’s Ruth is in no way insufferable. Her eloquence, poise, and knowing glances leave the audience with no doubt that she is capable of matching wits with anyone, and though the character’s confidence often veers towards condescension, at her core she appears to be predominantly motivated by her love for her husband, which can be seen in the unmistakable chemistry between Clare and Blakely.
Although Blithe Spirit features strong performances from the entire cast, it’s the women in this production that really shine. Keith gave a fearless performance as Madame Acardi, cooky, unpredictable, and oddly respectable all at once. Miranda Wiseman as Edith the maid and Holly May as Mrs. Bradman could steal a scene with a single line.
However, the dialect work was not always consistent—some British accents were more believable than others, but any flaws in elocution were more than compensated for by strong performances.
It also must be said that the set and costuming were divine. The crew brilliantly transformed the stage into a world of heightened sophistication and glamour. The stage tricks incorporated into the show are clever and always delightfully unexpected.
Theatre Erindale’s Blithe Spirit is lightheartedly morbid, delightfully chaotic, and absolutely stunning to watch. During its original run in the 1940’s, Blithe Spirit gave audiences a reason to laugh during the second world war. With all the social and political conflict happening in our world today, I couldn’t think of a better time to offer audiences a bit of comic relief.
Blithe Spirit runs from January 24 – February 3.
This article has been corrected.
- January 28, 2019 at 5 a.m.: Added Image and caption