It is widely known that Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in only 5 days and in the run up to the plays original London production only two lines of dialogue were removed. This, coupled with its original run of 1,997 consecutive performances, is testament to the quality of Cowards writing, and its enduring popularity is evident in its frequent global productions.
This new production in Oldham certainly doesn’t disappoint and remains true to Cowards indisputably intended frivolous spirit of the piece. All the elements gel together well to create a highly entertaining evening at the theatre.
The story begins in the home of Charles Condomine (Mark Healy) and his second wife Ruth (Emily Pithon). With their friends Dr and Mrs Bradman (Christopher Wilkinson and Roberta Kerr) they invite, in the spirit of jest and scepticism, local medium Madame Arcati (Alwyn Taylor) to the house to perform a séance. During the course of the séance Madame Arcati inadvertently summons the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Amy Hall) setting the scene for huge amounts of ghostly farce, jealousy with murderous intent and further outrageous séances leading to a brilliantly staged conclusion.
All the cast are excellent and work well together as an ensemble. Liz Carney as Edith, the Condomine’s maid, is amusing in her awkward manner and is blessed with one of the funniest lines in act three which she delivers tremendously well. Healy and Pithon as the husband and wife team share excellent chemistry and Pithon in particular shows real versatility. Their ghostly scenes with Hall are very clever. Kerr and Wilkinson also play their underwritten supporting characters well, but the show is well and truly stolen by Taylor portraying Madame Arcati as truly eccentric and dotty. Her energetic and over the top performance is a sheer delight and worth the entrance price alone.
Credit is due to Director Robin Herford who ensures that the long play moves along at breakneck speed and never sags for a moment but I do feel he could have explored some of the comic possibilities a little further as I felt that the whole evening should have been funnier that it actually was.
The set by Michael Hold bears more than a striking resemblance to the set for the Coliseum's preceding production Quartet but is nevertheless highly effective, especially during the final scene. It is also excellently lit by Thomas Weir whose lighting design proves integral to creating the right atmosphere.
Blithe Spirit is only on for another three weeks so I would advise booking your seats fast. It is a solid production that deserves to do well and proves, once again, that the Oldham Coliseum is a thriving centre for top class regional theatre.