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Review Roundup: BLITHE SPIRIT at the Duke of York's Theatre

Review Roundup: BLITHE SPIRIT at the Duke of York's Theatre

Noël Coward's classic comedy Blithe Spirit, directed by Sir Richard Eyre and starring Jennifer Saunders, has returned to the UK for a limited 6-week engagement at the West End's Duke of York's Theatre.

Novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth are literally haunted by a past relationship when an eccentric medium inadvertently conjures up the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, at a séance. When she appears, visible only to Charles, and determined to sabotage his current marriage, life - and the afterlife - get complicated.

Jennifer Saunders, one of the UK's most popular comic actors, revives her role as the preposterous clairvoyant Madame Arcati. She is joined by original cast members Geoffrey Streatfeild who will star as Charles, Lisa Dillon as Ruth Condomine, Emma Naomi as Elvira, Simon Coates as Dr Bradman, Lucy Robinson as Mrs Bradman, and Rose Wardlaw as Edith. The production brings together a distinguished and multi-award-winning creative team, directed by former National Theatre director Sir Richard Eyre with design by Anthony Ward, lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by John Leonard and illusions by Paul Kieve.

See what the critics are saying...


David Benedict, Variety: Coward wrote a song in which he spoke of having "a talent to amuse," and the production certainly achieves that. But it should be so much more. Too much of the wit is flattened because the spirit veers towards the blistering. The clue is in the title: it should be blithe.

Luke Jones, Daily Mail: Saunders certainly carries the night, but doesn't make her entrance for a good while. Once on stage, she's at full throttle: twitching and licking her lips after gags and throwing herself into brilliantly ludicrous 'trances'.

Tim Bano, The Stage: Coward wrote the play to be a distraction during the unlimited grimness of the war, a mockery of death when death was everywhere. These days, its comedy of manners - the midlife male, a stale marriage and the worrisome lot of the genius writer - feels dry and dusty, and although Saunders summons some three-dimensionality, the rest of the production, while entertaining enough, has as much substance as a spectre.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: The last major London revival of this play was stolen from its ostensible star Angela Lansbury, playing Arcati, by a then unknown Patsy Ferran as the maid Edith. Rose Wardlaw does a great slapstick turn in the part here, bouncing around Anthony Ward's set like a rubber ball. But this amusing, awkward production undoubtedly belongs to Saunders.

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: When Saunders is not on stage, the pace flags and the pitch of the comedy veers between flat and a little too hysterical as the central couple, Charles and Ruth, grapple with the ghostly intrusion of Charles's sexy first wife, Elvira, who returns from the dead to play mischief with their marriage.

Aleks Sierz, The Arts Desk: Coward's vision of England - with its supercilious posh toffs and silly servants (an image he effectively overturns) - is honoured by Eyre and his team, when surely it is high time it was questioned. Although this is a scrupulously detailed and kind account of a classic, it is also frankly lacking in surprises and in laughter. In fact, this is one of the most serious versions of a comedy you could ever hope to see. Eyre treats Blithe Spirit as if it was a play by Ibsen when he should have embraced it like a farce by Brian Rix.


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