There will be no shortage of Noel Coward revivals this year - 1999 is the centenary of the suave one's birth. Blithe Spirit, Coward's 1941 'improbable farce', is Harrogate Theatre's addition to the ranks. After three weeks on home turf, this will also be the first Harrogate production to tour. Directed by Rob Swain, this production is fully intended to be Harrogate Theatre's flagship as the company attempts to show audiences further afield what it s capable of.
Swain, Andrew Wood (design) and Paul Colley (lighting) have heaped plenty of care and attention onto the work in hand, offering an impeccable production (save, that is, for a ridiculously dark seance scene). It s a conventional approach to the material, which is to be expected as one imagines it would be madness to offer an audience anything other than that which Coward intended.
The play is extremely well acted. Pamela Buchner's Madame Arcati is a close relative of the Margaret Rutherford variety, Nicola Wainwright's Edith is a truly silly Mrs Overall type and Shelly Willetts ghostly performance as the mischievous Elvira is enchanting. Paul Mooney plays it as smug as befits Charles Condomine, until that is his world comes crashing down around his ears when his ex-wife Elvira returns from beyond the grave after Madame Arcati's seance.
The play itself is hardly flawless. Condomine is something of a misogynist who just wants rid of the two women in his life, neither of whom he cares about whether living or dead. The first act, too, takes an age to show how ordered and sophisticated Coward's characters lives are, which sets the scene for the total disarray that befalls them. Coward lovers will, however, thoroughly enjoy Swain and Co's treatment of events in the country house, the delivery of the elegant, witty and clever dialogue and the mixing of the Dry Martinis. It's all so, well, Noel Coward, if you know what I mean.
Then, of course, there is the big pay-off that closes Blithe Spirit, as the ghosts of Charles' two wives wreck the abode. A wonderful box of tricks that is magnificently well executed.
At Harrogate Theatre until 13 February Wakefield Theatre Royal, 16-20 February Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, 2-6 March Bury St. Edmunds Theatre Royal, 9-13 March