The eccentric clairvoyant at the heart of Blithe Spirit is the “best role I’ve ever had,” Angela Lansbury told a press conference to launch the forthcoming production of Noël Coward’s comic play, which opens at the Gielgud Theatre in the spring.
Lansbury will play Madame Arcati, the medium who conjures the ghost of novelist Charles Condomine’s first wife at a dinner party he is hosting with his wife Ruth, in Coward’s 1941 comedy when it arrives in the West End from 1 March to 7 June.
Of Madame Arcati, Lansbury said: “I think it’s an extraordinary character. I adore playing her. I love getting out on stage every night to do it. If you’re that happy in a role, you want to repeat it. And what better place to repeat it than in London.”
Lansbury, who returns to the London stage for the first time in almost 40 years to reprise her role in the play that earned her a fifth Tony Award when it was staged on Broadway, has a passion for the role that dates back to her childhood. “Madame Arcati embodies the inner child I used to fool around with as the organiser of theatrical events in our house. One of the things that we used to do as children was to do a séance at Christmas time. So I’ve played this part for a long time.”
The stage and screen icon is no stranger to her forthcoming role, but taking to the stage of the Gielgud Theatre will constitute an “extraordinary experience” for the actress, whose mother Moyna Macgill made her professional stage debut there in 1918.
The forthcoming production sees Lansbury reunited with director of the Broadway hit Michael Blakemore, alongside a “marvellous cast” that includes Charles Edwards, Janie Dee, Jemima Rooper, Sandra Dickinson, Simon Jones and Patsy Ferran.
The Murder, She Wrote star had her first big break at the age of 17 in George Cukor’s 1944 thriller Gaslight and since then has gone on to appear in numerous films including The Picture Of Dorian Gray and The Manchurian Candidate. She has also notched up an impressive number of credits on stage that include All Over at the Aldwych Theatre, the 1973 London production of Gypsy and the National Theatre’s 1975 production of Hamlet.
Now, almost four decades later, Lansbury returns to the world of theatre, a place where, according to the actress, she is “most comfortable”.
The British Dame may be 88-years-old, but the prospect of a three month run in the West End doesn’t faze her. “I do have an enormous amount of energy and I’ve got to expend it somehow,” she told us, citing the source of her vigour as a handful of vitamin pills and strong tea.
So, the acting legend is “full of energy and ready to go” for Blithe Spirit when it opens at the Gielgud Theatre following the current run of psychological thriller Strangers On A Train.
As the conference came to end earlier today, she had a few final words about the production and what she would like it to achieve. “I would love it to be a smash hit. Everything possible is being done to make that happen.”