Noël Coward, a writer famously known for his wit, sophistication and elegance has created some of Britain’s well known plays throughout the 20th century which have stood the test of time. Blithe Spirit has been considered one of his greatest examples, having most recently played in the West End with Angela Lansbury, and this marvellous production by Union Theatre shows exactly why it is considered so. In an age where scepticism and the rise of fake mediums and TV psychics are prevalent in debate, Coward’s writing sits just as well with an audience of today and it shows that Coward was perhaps a bit ahead of his time. Also the play itself is delightfully funny with a few darker twists and unexpected turns which make each scene more exciting than the last and this production is brilliantly delivered and presented thanks to the efforts of director Mark Firmstone.
Alex Butler gives a terrific performance as Charles Condomine, the novelist who begins to hallucinate his late first wife following a dinner party séance. Complete with a typical Noël Coward styled robe, Butler excellently allows his character to dive into insanity at most times, whilst maintaining a sense of normality and charm about him. Victoria Ellery-Jones is sensational as Ruth, Charles’ current wife, who plays the character as initially chatty, optimistic and positive, but goes through a slight transformation into sarcastic and hilariously bitter when Charles’ condition begins to affect her too. The pair of them make a remarkable and believable aristocratic couple, providing excellent comedy in their supernatural situation.
Julie Moore is marvellous as the spectre, Elvira who comes to haunt the Condomines. Moore has a glorious personality but absolutely highlights the mischievousness that the character possesses as she moves around all corners of the stage, causing trouble to the living characters and also has some great sarcastic one-liners. Jackie Justham also is delightful as the almost bonkers Madame Arcati, the clairvoyant, who enjoys some crazy dancing and actions to ignite her powers and gleefully celebrating her success of the séance. They are also joined by a terrific supporting cast of Lloyd Hopkins as the cynical Dr. Bradman, along with Dominic Wilson and Jamie Moore as the also cynical but hilarious Vivian and Rupert. Belinda Piasecki also is wonderful as Edith, the maid struggling to get to grips with her job, but eventually saving the day.
The Solihull United Reformed Church has been brilliantly transformed into the living room of the Condomine’s with minimal props and furniture (with a few ghostly tricks going on!), and goes through scene and lighting transitions underscored by the talented pianist/Musical Director John Gough providing the upbeat, joyous music of the early 20th century. Overall, these elements combined with Coward’s witty writing and this excellent company of actors, make the play as great as any professional production and it is a fabulous achievement by Union Theatre.
Blithe Spirit runs at the Solihull United Reformed Church until Saturday 28th April.
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