Noel Coward’s plays are always good to stage from a commercial point of view and this production will continue to pull in the punters, whatever the critics say. I remember reading and enjoying this play when I was at school but this production is either painfully unenjoyable or it has rather cleverly made me realise what a shallow play this is to begin with.
The best thing about this production is right at the very end when lights, pictures and even the chandelier mysteriously come unhinged in the Condomine’s lounge, sorry, drawing room. It is a real spectacle. But apart from this, there isn’t anything else here to recommend, not even the acting. Alison Steadman’s Madame Arcati, who is a clairvoyant, hams it up on stage to such an extent that you pray for scenes which doesn’t involve her. The funny noises she makes and the endless waving of hands and the pacing of stage – apparently to communicate to the spirit world – seem contrite at best. Robert Bathurst plays Charles Condomine in a ‘I don’t have to work too hard at this role; the audience will still love me anyway’ kind of way. Hermione Norris (Ruth, Charles’ second wife) and Ruthie Henshall (Elvira, Charles’ first wife) are marginally better although even their efforts seem laboured.
I am sure this production will do well commercially but it certainly isn’t an enjoyable outing for the discerning theatre buff, especially when you consider the number of good quality productions in London currently.
Blithe Spirit is at the Apollo Theatre until 18 June 2011. Performance time is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes with a 15 minute interval.