In 1941, when Britain was gripped in the vice of the Second World War, many thought that Noel Coward’s new play – a comedy about death – might well be ill-timed. In fact, it engendered completely the opposite reaction. Blithe Spirit was a supreme success and provided escapist relief in those dark days.
The comparison with today is strikingly obvious. We are in yet another dark space at the moment and certainly in need of something to lift the spirits. This task is taken on admirably by the Butler Company – The Georgian’s brand new professional acting troupe – who incidentally have had their own trials in getting this production onto the stage. The original airing was scheduled for April 2020 but then of course we all know what happened and the play had to be totally re-cast and a new director found for this two-year-delayed show.
The plot centres on socialite Charles Condomine who organises a séance to provide material for his new book. Unfortunately for him, it conjures the spirit of his first wife – Elvira – whom he alone can see and hear. The mischievous and temperamental spirit then proceeds to wreak havoc with his marriage to second wife Ruth who can’t see Elvira so naturally thinks her husband has gone mad. This complex love triangle is the source of much humour and is complicated further when Ruth is killed in a car crash (caused by Elvira) who then joins her opponent on the ‘other side’.
These three characters are played wonderfully by Dan Cockett (Charles), Emily Wilson (Ruth) and Anna Sophia Montgomery (Elvira) who capture perfectly the tensions within this paranormal menage a trois. The scenes are very funny but a darkness resides in the horrors of their marriages. There are secret betrayals in Charles’s first, fiery marriage to Elvira and nagging insecurities and jealousies in his second marriage, to Ruth. A particularly poignant moment is captured when Charles and Elvira sing a duet (very polished) and dance to the eerie sound of a gramophone in the darkened drawing room.
The tricky Madame Arcati role is totally nailed by Sharon Thompson who manages to convey the screwball comedy flavour of the eccentric medium without falling into the trap of silliness. Her scenes are delightfully amusing.
Ruth Allison (Violet Bradman) and Aidan Macfarlane who plays her doctor husband provide strong supporting roles, bringing another humorous expose of marriage into the frame and the role of the maid Edith is captured brilliantly by Katrianna Torbet. The audience find themselves inexorably drawn to her portrayal of the inept servant – with a particularly scene-stealing moment when she dusts behind the curtains during the séance.
Without doubt, this is a very well-presented and produced show. (One expects nothing less from the Theatre’s experienced and talented creative in-house team that each year brings us the much-loved pantomime.) The set is sumptuous reflecting a keen eye for detail and the costumes ooze the glamour associated with the era. The end scene when Charles – seemingly alone – realises that his troublesome wives are still present is extremely well done with props flying unaided around the stage.
All in all, this was an extremely competent production from the Butler Company. Their founding principle is to ‘promote exciting and creative theatre in North Yorkshire’ and if this inaugural show is a taste of things to come then we are in for many more treats.