Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: BLITHE SPIRIT, Harold Pinter Theatre

Jennifer Saunders ensures a laugh-out-loud evening

Blithe Spirit

Blithe SpiritRichard Eyre's production of Noël Coward's 1941 Blithe Spirit was just settling into its West End home last year when lockdown struck. Now revived with most of its original cast, it settles into the Harold Pinter theatre for an eight-week run, featuring a stage-stealing appearance by Jennifer Saunders.

Charles is an author who wants to do some research into a new book on the occult. He and his wife Ruth book the local medium Madam Arcati to come for the evening and perform a séance for him to observe. When Arcati inadvertantly raises the spirit of Charles' alluring first wife Elvira, it becomes clear that she is determined to cause mischief and mayhem in Charles' second marriage.

Jennifer Saunders provides much of the comedy as she returns to her role of Madame Arcati. She not only commands the stage, but also ensures energy and pace, which dips a little when she is not present. The decision to play her as a rosy-cheeked and sensibly-dressed countrywoman in a beige cardigan and sturdy boots, rather than an exotic bohemian works well, as it enables a huge amount of physical comedy.

Saunders show no concessions to traditional feminine behaviour; legs spread wide with large sweat patches on her dress after a vigorous bike ride. She channels a mixture of Margaret Rutherford, the original Madame Arcati, and an eccentric Hyacinth Bucket to very funny effect.

The rest of the cast knit together well. Lisa Dillon is reliably good as Ruth, the increasingly fed-up and undermined second wife. Dillon shows palpable rising tension as she tries to maintain both her dignity and outward appearances.

Geoffrey Streatfeild as ageing playboy Charles is a natural in the role; showing Basil Fawlty-levels of increasing frustration at the strange situation in which he finds himself. The chemistry with Madeleine Mantock's Elvira is not always tangible, but Mantock does well with the rather one-dimensional role of an old-school seductress, complete with platinum wig and coquettish delivery.

Support comes from Simon Coates's thoughtful doctor and Lucy Robinson's overly excitable Mrs Bradman. However, Rose Wardlaw is a laugh-out-loud standout as hapless maid Edith; hugely funny in both her physical and vocal mannerisms.

Blithe Spirit draws from the same subject as Coward's masterpiece Private Lives, of couples haunted by their past relationships and the trials of midlife marriage. Although the play now is 80 years old, this production feels both entertaining and suitably caustic. However, it is a shame that some of the comedy is derived from the rivalry between the women, with Ruth becoming an increasingly clichéd nag and Elvira the younger temptress.

Coward's dialogue remains witty and sharp, particularly when Charles talks at cross purposes to both Ruth and Elvira. Eyre's revival is both entertaining and very good fun, but feels a little slow at times, as though some of the scenes could have been either cut down or sped up.

Anthony Ward's sumptuous set of the family living room is incredibly detailed and well-thought out. Soaring shelves of books compliment the height of the Harold Pinter theatre, with lovely touches of antique rugs, Chinese pottery and crystal glasses making the setting feel very authentic.

Howard Harrison's very effective lighting allows an ethereal blue light to illuminate Elvira, while the natural daylight ebbs and flows from the large windows. While the use of dramatic 'scary' music is a little overblown, Paul Kieve's illusions provide a visually striking and comic finale to a highly enjoyable evening.

Blithe Spirit is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 6 November

Photo Credit: Nobby Clark

Related Stories
Madeleine Mantock Joins West End Production of BLITHE SPIRIT as Elvira Photo
Jennifer Saunders, one of the UK's most popular comic actors, will revive her role as the preposterous clairvoyant Madame Arcati. She is joined by original cast members Geoffrey Streatfeild who will star as Charles Condomine, Lisa Dillon as Ruth Condomine, Simon Coates as Dr Bradman, Lucy Robinson as Mrs Bradman, and Rose Wardlaw as Edith.

From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

Full Cast Announced for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Starring Rachel TuckerFull Cast Announced for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Starring Rachel Tucker
January 30, 2023

Olivier Award-winning West End star Matt Henry is joining the cast of Annie Get Your Gun for a special one-night only concert – starring West End and Broadway favourite Rachel Tucker, at the world-famous London Palladium.

Show of the Week: Save up to 52% on NOISES OFFShow of the Week: Save up to 52% on NOISES OFF
January 30, 2023

Theatre Royal Bath Productions present Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy, Matthew Kelly and Tracy-Ann Oberman in the fortieth anniversary production of one of the greatest British comedies ever written.

Tickets from £30 for MEDEA Starring Sophie OkonedoTickets from £30 for MEDEA Starring Sophie Okonedo
January 27, 2023

What could turn a woman from a lover into a destroyer of love?

Review: TWO BILLION BEATS, Orange Tree TheatreReview: TWO BILLION BEATS, Orange Tree Theatre
January 27, 2023

Sonali Bhattacharyya's Two Billion Beats beautifully captures the intricacies of a siblings' relationship as the pair navigate exam pressure, racism and social injustice. When Bettina asks for her sister's help, Asha's desire for the truth to be heard has consequences for both of them.

Michael Longhurst to Step Down as Artistic Director of the Donmar WarehouseMichael Longhurst to Step Down as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse
January 26, 2023

After five years in the role, Michael Longhurst has announced that he will step down as Artistic Director of The Donmar Warehouse when his contract ends in February 2024.