[Theatre ~ SA]
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild, Little Theatre, Thu 13 Aug.
You don’t hear words like blithe, guttersnipe; or deportment much anymore. For the record, blithe describes someone with little regard for others. Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit was first staged in London’s West End in 1941. Some may question the relevance of giving such period pieces another run when there is so much contemporary drama pertaining to our own times worthy of attention, but Cowards’ plays are regularly dusted off and brought back to life because they’re good. They’re funny, witty, observant and typically tell an entertaining tale.
And so it is with Blithe Spirit. Staged during World War II it would have provided welcome relief to a war weary British public and, so too, was it a satisfying distraction from our own current dilemmas. Blithe Spirit is essentially a comedy about ghosts. A group of friends decide to invite an old local crackpot to dinner – Madam Arcati, who promotes herself as a medium through which the living can contact the spirit world. When Madam Arcati arrives at the Condamine’s dinner party they interrupt their banter about what makes a good martini to half-heartedly engage in a séance. The man of the house, Charles Condamine, has an ulterior motive: researching a character for a book he’s writing. The séance is rather more successful than anyone imagined and a ghost (the blithe spirit) becomes part of the Condamine household.
The visiting ghost has a lot to say but is only visible and audible to Charles, and the ensuing threesome between Charles, his wife, and the ghost makes for some amusing scenes. Charles’s wife eventually declares that he is going mad. Charles for a while suspects that himself. Further supernatural intervention from Madam Arcati complicates things even further till Charles realises that there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. His life has changed forever.
The cast do a great job of re-enacting the mood and manners of the times. Brad Martin is suitably understated and formal as a typical English gentleman. Jean Walker’s Madame Arcati is endearingly nutty, and Emily Currie is excellent in the role of the precocious, pot-stirring ghost.
There are plenty of references to more substantial themes beneath the frivolity of the narrative – the role of honesty in marital relationships, how to reconcile the past and present, how women sometimes bully men.
Perhaps the comedy could have been more accentuated. It was more smiles than laughs most of the time but the dynamic could be quite different with a larger audience. And there is something strangely satisfying about watching people go on about dry martinis and cucumber sandwiches!
Blithe Spirit continues at the Little Theatre, at various times, until Sun 21 Aug.
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