Blithe Spirit is the second play in Northenden Players‘ first full season at their new theatre, which is suitably decked out in Halloween decorations. What can be more fitting for Halloween than a play about a husband who inadvertently raises the ghost of his ex-wife at a seance?
In typical Noël Coward fashion, this is not a frightening, blood-curdling haunting. Instead, Coward creates a wickedly funny comedy in which wires are crossed, as the ghost is only visible to her husband, who has now remarried, and remains elusive to the other guests.
Blithe Spirit marks the directorial debut of Francis Lee, one of Northenden Players’ best comic actors. As an actor, Lee has a remarkable skill for extracting the comedy within a script, which he retains as a director. Each scene is directed with precision, resulting in excellent comic timing. Entrances and exits are all timed to perfection, elevating the play’s comedy.
But where Lee truly succeeds is in conducting the ghost of Elvira to be constantly on the move. It is unclear how much of this is written as stage direction from Noël Coward, but Francis Lee executes it perfectly. Characters repeatedly end up talking to thin air, or even end up directing their dialogue to her feet. It is evident that the deceased Elvira loves to play these amusing tricks, particularly on Ruth, her husband’s new wife, and the rivalry between the two is truly amusing to watch. With this amount of talent as a director, I hope that Francis Lee continues to direct, as Blithe Spirit is a fantastic debut!
In addition to brilliant direction, and some spooky stage theatrics, Elvira’s apparition is also effectively conveyed through Dave McGuire and Jo Taylor‘s superb lighting design. The ghost is lit continually in a cold, white light, which shimmers off Elvira’s silver robes, pale skin and hair, giving a luminous quality to the spectre.
Contrasting with the warm lighting for the rest of the stage, the white lighting gives Elvira an other-worldly quality, visually separating her from the living. As she constantly moves about, the lighting technicians have to quickly react to her movements so deserve a huge amount of credit for managing to keep up with her on the night.
As usual, the level of acting at Northenden Players is akin to many professional companies, defying the conception that amateur theatre is overly melodramatic. Tom Chinnery is magnificent as Charles Condomine, working himself into hysterics at his ex-wife’s ghostly manifestation. Charles is caught between his current wife, the level-headed, reserved Ruth (Kirsty Hatton) and the playful, sexually promiscuous Elvira (Alexandra Severn). The incessant bickering between the three characters is incredibly funny to watch.
Tom Chinnery’s initial reaction to Elvira’s ghost is worth the ticket price alone, making many audience members jump out of their skins. However, it is Katherine Machin who steals the show as the delightfully eccentric spiritualist, Madam Arcati. Delivering her character’s dialogue with a distant, absent-minded tone, she is fabulously quirky. Although she seems forgetful and peculiar, it is with a stroke of irony that Madam Arcarti is, in fact, the most perceptive person in the play.
Blithe Spirit proves that you don’t have to pay a fortune to watch top quality theatre. It has everything you could want from a play; great performances, technical prowess, and directorial dexterity. For a tenner, there aren’t many better nights out than this!