Thursday, 31 May 2007

Blithe Spirit - Watford Palace Theatre

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
Watford Palace Theatre: 24th May - 16th June
Directed by: Matthew Llloyd
Reviewed by : Kevin O'Brien

Revived many times since its 1941 premiere, Sir Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit has sometimes been used as a vehicle for prominent actors and actresses. This production forsakes the temptation of casting a big name or two, and triumphs with an excellent cast, regardless of the relative lack of TV soap appearances between them. The reward of seeing seven actors combining to deliver one of Coward's most popular pieces at a brisk yet unrushed pace is tribute to the casting and direction as well as the skills of the actors themselves. Not one laugh fell flat, and while everyone on stage was at least equal to their part, male lead Simon Dutton deserved special praise for his portrayal of the author, widow and initially sceptical socialite Charles Condomine. Dutton played the script like a stringed instrument, and looked born to the part.

Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in a mere five days, pruning his original script of just two lines of dialogue prior to its first London performance. As such, and with the action all taking place in an affluent 1940's drawing room, it's tempting to perceive the play as a cosy, even boastful monument to Coward's virtuosity. Yet that would be entirely churlish; this remarkable feat of writing is simply the work of a great writer at the peak of his powers. The wit is as dry as a martini mixed by Condomine's second wife Ruth, while the razor-sharp dialogue underpins a gamut of devices including the centerpiece of Condomine's first wife Elvira returning to haunt Charles via a seance, various other things that go bump in the night, and even a false ending!

While in 2007 it might still be argued Blithe Spirit has been reduced to a period piece, the beautiful yet archaic language had a near full house feasting on every comic line - and there are many of them.

With this production, Watford Palace Theatre has achieved West End standards in every department. The writing, direction and cast were complemented by a beautiful set (designed by Colin Falconer) Impeccably redolent of the 1940's setting, the lounge was so cleverly designed and constructed it somehow felt conjoined with the auditorium rather than being separated from it. Highly recommended.

Blithe Spirit Runs at the Watford Palace Theatre until the 16th June for more information visit

Photos by: Pete Jones - Aicha Kossoko (Madame Arcati), Simon Dutton (Charles), Tessa Churchard (Ruth)
Emma Cleasby (Elvira), Robin Hooper (Dr Bradman), Penelope Beaumont (Mrs Bradman) & Becky John (Edith)
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