BLITHE SPIRIT Tue 2 – Sat 6 July 2019 Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Director: Laurie MacIver
Photo Credit: Joe Taylor Photography
Charles – Nic Metcalfe Ruth – Alice Sheepshanks Elvira – Kat Metcalfe Madam Arcati - Jeremy Roberts Edith - Eloise Trett Mr Bradman - Richard Fawcett Mrs Bradman –Sinead St Leger
NODA Review BLITHE SPIRIT by Noël Coward Performed by Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (BSEAODS) Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Directed by Laurie Maciver
In the spring of 1941, as Londoners endured the Blitz, Noël Coward decamped to Wales to work on a new play, Blithe Spirit, “Very gay, superficial comedy about a ghost, feel it may be good”. Six days later, it was written, and now, more than seven decades later, BSEAODS treated us to another visitation as part of the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal’s 200th anniversary year. This production is something of an anniversary for BSEAODS too as it was the first play to be performed in the Theatre Royal when it re-opened 54 years ago after 41 years of being used as a barrel store by Greene King.
For the uninitiated this witty tale concerns Charles Condomine a novelist researching a new book. To this end, he's invited round a local mystic, Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance for him, his wife (Ruth), and some friends (Dr. & Mrs. Bradman), but with the subterfuge of exposing her as a charlatan and using her as subject material. An unexpected result is the appearance of the spirit of Elvira, his “morally untidy” and seven years departed wife. As Condomine is the only one who can see or communicate with her ghost, confusion and pandemonium follow. Ruth and Elvira compete ruthlessly for his affections, and chaos ensues. The setting presented the era perfectly with a combination of superb furniture and props. Lights (Kate Skylar) were good despite a couple of blips but there was a rather dark area stage right where actors disappeared slightly. Phil Robson’s sound was very well judged. The rain storm and its aftermath was impressive. Costumes were set nicely in the era. The ghostly mantle of Elvira was effective, but Ruth just seemed to be in a paler version of her outdoor scarf and coat even after the funeral. As is the way with a BSEAODS stage crew all scene changes were very slick. The ghostly hauntings with things flying off shelves etc. worked and well done to whoever controlled the smoke machine for managing to keep the “ectoplasm” just right. Laurie Maciver’s production had all the values one would expect of this splendidly silly play. His cast captured the period style well without lapsing into caricature. The pace was good in the main and it had the clarity that one expects of a play where the words are everything. The mood development from the refined & constrained politesse of the first act to the virtual anarchy of the second act was as subtle and natural as the text allowed, and the denouement well delivered. Coward’s dialogue demands pace, cue bite, and impeccable delivery. That the cast met this challenge so well is a tribute to their talent and hard work. Edith the inept maid is an on-off role but Eloise Trett made a good job of it with a very amusing performance. Ruth Condomine (Alice Sheepshanks) is a woman who watches her husband fall back in love with his invisible ex-wife’s ghost. Yet despite this implausibility, she was totally believable. Ms Sheepshanks has style that stood her in good stead here. Charles Condomine (Nic Metcalfe) played the part of an astral bigamist with humour as dry as his martinis. Incorrigibly selfish, his rapture on reunion with Elvira contrasted beautifully with that of the unhappy and furious reaction of Ruth. His descent into despair caused by the ensuing conflict was delivered with a masterful balance of empathy and comedy. A bravura performance. Mrs. & Dr. Bradman (Sinead St Leger and Richard Fawcett) along with the Condomines, made a perfect four. Their scenes together were natural, pacy, funny, and totally believable. Kat Metcalfe portrayed Elvira with a blithe, ethereal capriciousness that was the essence of Elvira right down to her ectoplasm. David Suchet has started something with his role as Lady Bracknell and Jeremy Roberts followed this trend cast as Madame Arcati. Although there was nothing specifically wrong with Mr Roberts’ performance it was not as delightfully eccentric as one has come to expect of this character. Given permission by the script to go wonderfully over-the-top I think there was a missed opportunity here. However, following in the footsteps of the one and only Margaret Rutherford was, as they say these days, “a big ask”. Congratulations to Director Laurie Maciver and the cast. This was a very amusing, accomplished and stylish production that deserves the best of houses for the rest of the run. Julie Petrucci Regional Representative NODA East District Four South.