Blithe Spirit – Gielgud Theatre

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After a near forty year absence from the London stage and at the age of a mere 88 Angela Lansbury is making a much trumpeted return to our shores. To add to all the heraldry she is also now a Dame. So no pressure on her then!

In a production that took Broadway by storm a few years ago by director Michael Blakemore, himself a snip at just 85, Dame Angela proves that age does not have to be a boundary to comic perfection and certainly takes nothing away from a commanding actress who enchants and delights at every turn. Even the most cynical amongst us will feel witness to a legend and will treasure this performance for a long time to come.

What is such a joy to report about this production of the much revived Noel Coward classic is that it does not all hinge on the star casting though. The entire company sizzle ethereally throughout and pack plenty of comic punches that have you laughing heartily in a way that is often not achieved with this play.

Blakemore’s witty, stylish and highly polished production moves a pace and strikes a comic chord, blowing away the cobwebs and giving a fresh feel to a sometimes whimsy comedy. The familiar tale of well to do writer Charles (Charles Edwards) and wife Ruth (Janie Dee) hosting a dinner party that includes the eccentric and illuminating medium Madame Arcati (Lansbury) by way of research for a new book is loaded with comic potential. As the scatty medium conducts her séance the ghost of former wife Elvira (Jemima Rooper) is dragged into the living, although can only be seen and heard by Charles.

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Edwards is a wonderfully bemused and down trodden Charles. A mix of English gent and part buffoon he warms the audience to his confusion and delirium with great ease. Dee and Rooper as the two wives are carefully crafted as polar opposites of each other, Dee as the starched and terribly correct Ruth and Rooper as a light, breezy and wispily playful Elvira.

A particularly spirited and physical performance also from Patsy Ferran in her professional debut as Edith, the maid. Ferran is beautifully dishevelled and rough around the edges. Her high velocity to virtual slow motion speed control is a joy in this minor yet crucial role.

But of course the evening does belong to Lansbury. The rapturous applause on each entrance and exit is proof of that if any were needed. In her elegantly bohemian outfits with her red hair in buns on either side of her head she captivates and reminds us all of what a great comic actress she still is. Her devastating withering looks thrown towards the sceptics in the group along with her almost drug induced looking dancing and skipping around the stage as she enters her trance is pure magic. She throws herself around and flops onto the furniture in a way that most 88 year olds I’ve ever known simply could not.

This is a woman that still clearly has an energy and vigour for life that should be commended. Most of all she has a sparkle in her eye that suggests that she won’t be stopping anytime soon!

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