first night

Blithe Spirit

Olivia Fox kicks off the Easter term reviews with LTC's 'Blithe Spirit'

  Blithe Spirit is an archetypal Noel Coward farce; rye, improbable and utterly entertaining. Protagonist and sceptic Charles Condomine (Matt Todd) invites a medium and clairvoyant, Madam Arcati (Olivia Race) to his middle class residence to perform a séance for his wife and companions in order to provide fodder for his latest novel. The séance calls back the ghost of Charles’ ex-wife, only visible to him, and subsequently cannot banish her back, mayhem ensues. Lion Theatre Company’s bold efforts at portraying this light-hearted comedy were successfully realised, however with a little less spirit than I had hoped.

The 1940s setting was executed well, with musical interludes of Fred Astaire and antiquated set supporting their clipped ‘BBC’ accents, which were accomplished well across the board. Special mention is also due to costume designer Alissa Cooper, as the outfits and general styling really helped to emanate a sense of class and also allowed a visual contrast between Condomine’s two wives.

The cast was generally strong, with the most believable performance coming from Alisha Bennet as Charles’ second wife, Ruth. Her incessant nagging and humourlessness offered a palpable tension and at times carried the plot along as it lagged through the slower moving scenes. Clarissa Lonsdale too, must be commended on her portrayal of Elvira, capturing her playful flirtation perfectly, particularly in her balletic physicality that reached a crux in a dance in the second act, which was executed with elegance, and offered light relief from the extensive dialogue. The eccentric Madame Arcati, played by Olivia Race undoubtedly offered the most humour to the piece, with her bohemian air and excited shrieks diffusing Matt Todd’s sarcastic utterances.

In light of such strong individual performances, the lack of pace in this production is disappointing. After careful consideration, I deduced the reasoning behind this apparent lag lay with the lack of chemistry that these characters shared. This is a crucial component in a play such as Blithe Spirit, whose power ultimately lies in the deteriorating relationships of the Condomines. This can perhaps be attributed to first night nerves however as some of the dialogues were undoubtedly commanding and powerful, notably a tense breakfast between Charles and Ruth; yet these moments of chemistry were equalled by scenes entailing awkward line slips and technical mishaps.

The direction was cleverly executed however, with well-rehearsed moments where characters addressed the ghosts in a location metres from their actual position on the stage, evoking much amusement. Additionally the close proximities of the living and dead, frequently brushing past one another yet never colliding alluded to meticulous choreography, only stilted by a few cases of unnatural blocking.

Ultimately, Blithe Spirit proved an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. Tyler Rainford’s direction is strong, and the plot enthralling. Lion Theatre Company’s production’s only real downfall is derived from its pace, which at one point resulted in the audience’s confusion as to whether the play had concluded or not. Once first night mishaps are ironed out, however, this show has real promise. Although not particularly laugh-out-loud funny the production was full of merriment and I would recommend it to anyone with a penchant for Coward, something light-hearted, or indeed something a little silly.


2 May 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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