The Theatreguide.London Review
Duke Of York's Theatre Spring 2020
A man whose first wife
died is happily remarried when the ghost of Wife #1 appears. Only he
and we can see her, and she has mischief in mind.
comedy is a very funny play, and if performed with any sense of comic
style, can be a total delight. Even an uninspired low-energy
production like this one can't completely ruin it, and if you go in
with low expectations and no sense of what's missing, you might have
a mildly enjoyable evening.
It used to seem
sometimes that there were
two directors named Peter Hall. The one who directed classics for the
RSC and National Theatre was brilliant, but when he did
just-for-the-bucks commercial work all inspiration waned.
I wonder if
there are beginning to be two Richard Eyres. What's missing from this
Blithe Spirit is exactly the firm and inventive directorial hand
we would expect from Eyre, guiding the cast to the play's full comic
Instead, with a
couple of partial exceptions, we get what feels like an
early-rehearsal-period run-through satisfied with getting the words
right and not bumping into the furniture.
This revival is being
marketed on the name of Jennifer Saunders, playing the mad medium
whose sťance inadvertently raises the ghost. Madame Arcati is one of
those extended cameo roles that give an actor the opportunity to
steal a show by being uninhibitedly hammy (Think of Malvolio or Lady
She even gets a scene,
as she charges herself up to go
into her trance, where the stage direction might as well read 'She
does some weird and funny stuff.'
But Saunders, who seems
been left on her own by the director to find both the character and
the shtick, comes up with nothing and just walks through the part.
Something similar seems
to have happened to Emma Naomi's ghost. It is
absolutely essential to the play that Elvira be irresistibly
beautiful, sexy, intelligent and naughty. These are qualities the
right actress might naturally bring to the role or that even a
miscast actress could be guided to feign effectively.
doesn't allure or flirt or beguile or pout or flash with sexual
danger. She is so hardly even there that I found myself being
distracted by the fear that her very fake-looking wig was slipping
I want to make it clear
that I am not criticising the actors
here, but the director. When more than one actor in a production is
bad, and they are bad in the same way, they were either miscast or
misdirected, told to do the wrong things or left to flounder about
trying to find the right things without guidance.
particularly see this because others in this cast did find find a
character and a comic tone to play.
Acting honours here go
Dillon in the usually thankless role of the second wife. Ruth is
essentially the straight man throughout the play, the target of
Elvira's pranks and insults and with little to do but react to
everybody else's wit.
But Dillon, clearly on
her own, sees that
reaction can be funny, and that the line responding to what was
supposed to be the laugh-getter can get an even bigger laugh. It is
she, rather than Elvira or the shared husband or even Madame Arcati,
who will hold your attention in every scene.
As with almost all of
Noel Coward's plays, any man playing the lead has to compete with
memories or myths of the playwright's own voice and manner in the
Geoffrey Streatfeild is
not an instinctive comic, and you will
start the evening missing the sense of laid-back high style the play
seems to want.
But he does gradually introduce an attractive alternate characterisation as Charles gets over his immediate shock and begins to warm to the idea of astral bigamy with a mix of boy's-own-adventure excitement and genteel lechery.
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