Noel Coward‘s 1941 play Blithe Spirit has been revived many times and is one of his most popular works. First performed during World War II, the comedy served as a well-needed tonic and distraction from the world at that time. The show is now back in the West End and it couldn’t be a better time, as London similarly needs something to smile about after the last couple of years we have gone through with the pandemic.
Charles and Ruth Condomine are hosting a dinner party for friends and they have a special treat in store after dinner – eccentric medium Madame Arcati is going to perform a séance to see if they can make contact with the dead. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go according to plan and Charles’s first wife Elvira is raised from the dead and thrilled to be able to haunt the new Mrs Condomine, whilst reminding Charles of just how much more he loves her than him. Madame Arcati is called back to make the ghost go away but her skills are rather limited and ends up cause more harm than good.
Jennifer Saunders is brilliant as batty old Madame Arcati, giving just a sprinkling of the comedic actress we know and love whilst also embodying a whole new character that allows us to watch the performance without constantly thinking about French and Saunders or Ab Fab. Madeleine Mantock appears to be living her best life as ex-wife, back from the dead Elvira and Rose Wardlaw as maid Edith is hilarious – darting about the house like a whippet at the races.
Geoffrey Streatfeild (Charles Condomine) and Lisa Dillon (Ruth Condomine) have a strong rapport, realistically playing the roles of bickering husband and wife. Simon Coates and Lucy Robinson give good performances as Mr and Mrs Bradman but are rather underused. Their characters don’t really have a purpose or much to do with the storyline.
The perfect ending to this play unfortunately came about fifteen minutes before the actual end. A brilliantly comical moment which many in the audience thought was the end (when actually there was one last scene to be had). But whilst the ending is somewhat of a spectacle to watch, I didn’t think it worked as well as it would have if they just cut the final scene altogether.
Blithe Spirit is a thoroughly enjoyable play that will give a few good laughs and a fun night out at the theatre. I’d love to see Catherine Tate play Madame Arcati and Hannah Waddingham as Elvira at some point in the future (just putting it out there to the universe)!
Reviewed by West End Wilma