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Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre

Published 19 March 2014

What’s it all about?

With this much-anticipated production, this question can be answered in one of two ways:

1) Ghostly high jinks. While researching a novel, Charles and Ruth invite local eccentric Madame Arcati to a dinner party to work her medium magic at a séance. Little do they know, however, a combination of their jovial cynicism and Arcati’s unexpected talents invite Charles’ mischievous late wife Elvira to the party. Predictably, the controlling Ruth is none too pleased when she overstays her welcome while Arcati is tickled pink… and stumped as to how to remove her meddlesome presence.

2) Angela Lansbury’s return to the London stage after more than 40 years. Unequivocally an acting legend, the Gielgud Theatre’s stage door has been swamped nightly by adoring fans welcoming her back to the West End to reprise the Tony Award-winning role she last played in Michael Blakemore’s Broadway production.

Who’s in it?

Angela Lansbury of course, earning rapturous applause every time she graces the stage. It is utterly deserved; at 88 years old she plays the hilariously dotty and endearingly useless Madame Arcati with youthful zeal and a childlike glint of mischief in her eye. Earning by far the most laughs in Noël Coward’s enjoyable farce, even Ruth’s demand she “sit down and control her natural exuberance” cannot succeed in diminishing Lansbury’s joyful presence.

As Charles, Charles Edwards is both charming and successful at smoothing over any of the play’s more misogynistic moments with the right level of unlikable arrogance and cutting wit. Janie Dee is brilliant as the control freak Ruth, while Jemima Rooper proves ghosts can be sexy – admittedly not a pressing matter, but nonetheless true – as the vivacious and demanding Elvira.

What should I look out for?

Simon Higlett’s sumptuous and clever design. While the majority of the cast are clad in the most elegant of ensembles made from gorgeous silks and velvets, Lansbury rocks a series of wonderfully eccentric outfits always topped off by her Princess Leia plaited buns and glittery headwear. This only adds to her jaunty trance dance that, take it from me, is not to be missed.

Who was in the press night crowd?

As you can imagine, it was a glamorous affair. We spotted Christopher Biggins, Cameron Mackintosh and Wayne Sleep, as well as musical theatre stars Elaine Paige, Anita Dobson and Tracie Bennett.

In a nutshell?

Angela Lansbury triumphantly returns to the London stage with a mischievous glint in her eye in Coward’s altogether charming comedy.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@PollyPoppets Blithe Spirit was great, such fun. And Angela Lansbury, she was incredible. A total star. Huge love for her.

@elaine_paige Congratulations to Dame Angela Lansbury on your triumphant opening night of Blithe Spirit. [click on the link for a picture of the pair together]

Will I like it?

If you’re looking for an evening of light entertainment performed with gravitas by an accomplished company, then yes absolutely, this is undoubtedly a jolly affair – as Charles and Ruth might say – from start to finish. The play may be old-fashioned, and Blakemore’s traditional staging does nothing to alleviate this, but the jokes still stand up and allow for the cast to fully flex their physical comedy muscles. Plus, let’s face it, which theatre fan could resist the chance to see Lansbury playing a character more deliciously nosy than even Jessica Fletcher?


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