Under the direction of Charlie Vicary, Studio Theatre Club’s latest production is certainly off to a flying start. Cary Grant once said of Noel Coward that “his wit punctures the world’s pomposities” and true-to-form, Blithe Spirit encapsulates Coward’s trademark comic prose in a circus of chaotic absurdity. The protagonist, Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth, engage in a séance lead by a small-time psychic medium. Unthinkably, this results in the material manifestation of Charles’ mischievous first wife Elvira some seven years after her untimely death. The resulting volley of squabbles, tricks and confusion is a joy to behold, and the small cast maintain entertainingly energetic performances throughout. Every actor appears to be having a great deal of fun in their role, immediately relaxing the audience; peppering the proceedings with spontaneous laughter from the outset.
In testament to the director’s attention to detail, a number of innovative, clever props have been created for the show which are all extremely well utilised. The homely, but visually stimulating set gives credence to the production, with an exceptional original painting of this very Charles Condomine (by artist Tess Trinder) taking centre stage.
Following the initial shock reappearance of his first wife, Brian Mackenwells’ portrayal of Charles Condomine often lends an air of equable insouciance to the show, his struggle to please both women is decidedly believable, and the resulting interspersed “didactic” witticisms are well delivered. Holly Bathie delights with a superb and consistent performance as Charles’ second wife Ruth, her effortlessly natural reactions and articulation radiating over the audience. The often insufferable, but beautiful ghost of Elvira Condomine is impishly executed by Elena Wright; whose expressions and purposeful silent actions frequently gain some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
As for the supporting cast, Madam Arcarti, Debs McKenna plays up to the farcical stereotypes traditionally associated with mediums, her unabashed, almost vulgar arrogance and openness is an object of morbid curiosity to cast and audience alike. Sreya Rao gives a charming depiction of Edith the kitchen maid; simultaneously effectuating dainty and incongruously clumsy to subtly humorous effect. Doctor and Mrs Bradman (played by Mike MacDonald and Anna Wilson) inject a cheery, contented normalcy into their scenes; serving as a welcome reminder of life outside the Condomine’s bizarrely altered country home.
The hair and makeup design (by Anna Sturrock) is particularly impressive. Ruth’s immovable victory rolls perfectly complement her stubbornness, while Elvira’s blue/grey pallor and black lips are instantly credible in an ethereal being. In keeping with the set, the characters are all inconspicuously costumed; with the exciting and notable exception of the ostentatious Madam Arcarti whose jewels and robes heighten her flamboyant nature.
Only a handful of tickets remain for Blithe Spirit; and it would be a criminal shame to miss this positively first-class production by Studio Theatre Club, which can surely only improve as the actors continue to relax into their roles over the course of the run. The audience left in a sea of smiles, with a great many commenting on how much they had enjoyed the play. I myself have returned home with happy memories of an evening well spent, and an unshakeable craving for cucumber sandwiches!