Friday, February 21

Blithe Spirit

- January 26, 2020

Classic Noël Coward needs a classy cast and they don’t come classier than this. From the opening line to the denouement you know that you are in safe hands. The set is proper, the props in period and the costumes are first class. In other words the bones are all in place for the company to flesh it out and flesh it out they do.

Rose Wardlaw is perfect as Edith the maid, tongue tied and oafish she blusters around the stage. Lucy Bradaman is perfect as the rather pompous and silly wife of Dr Bradman and Simon Coates looks and sounds as if he has dropped onto the stage from a 1940s film version of a Coward play. In fact the look of the characters is beautifully rendered as are the clipped vowels and almost lost accents of the upper middle class of that period. Emma Naomi is delightful as the wickedly skittish ghost Elvira and for a physical presence manages to create and ethereal one as she moves around the stage.

This is maintained by Lisa Dillon in the role of Ruth Condomine, an assured performance throughout, precise and confident in every way. The same can be said of Geoffrey Streatfield as Charles Condomine but to this one can add another layer of condescending arrogance and a dollop of campery too, pure Coward and delivered brilliantly.

All this makes for a great evening of brilliant theatre – and all this before we get to the reason that a great many people had made their way to see the play, that being the presence in the cast of Jennifer Saunders. Best known for her television work, as both performer and writer, there was little doubt that all eyes were on her. Quite rightly so! Madame Arcati is a character so well known, the epitome of English eccentricity, that taking it to the stage and making it your own is now doubt a major challenge. Jennifer Saunders does just that, the voice, the lick lipping twitches and ticks, the bandy legged gait and use of costume to exaggerate her character, the buttoning of cardigans and pulling on an off of gloves… well it simply works to great effect. Add to this of course brilliant comic timing and the ability to find the humour in every world of Coward’s script and you soon realise that this is a five star achievement and no doubt a highlight in a career already littered with accolades. It no doubt also has much to do with Richard Eyre’s excellent direction, Anthony Ward’s beautiful design and every one else’s contributions but on this occasion the night belongs to Jennifer Saunders.

Theatre Royal Brighton

24 January

Andrew Kay

Rating: ★★★★★




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