blithe cast

Geoffrey Streatfeild  as Charles, Emma Naomi as Elvira, Jennifer Saunders as Mme Arcati and Lisa Dillon as Ruth

Blithe Spirit

Malvern Theatres


What do you get if you take one of Britain's best-loved female comedians and mix her with its most acclaimed comedic writer?

Jennifer Saunders stars in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at Malvern Theatres as part of a brief tour before the show transfers to the West End for a limited six week stint at the Duke Of York's Theatre.

There's a lot of buzz around the production as it's not only directed by former National Theatre Director Sir Richard Eyre, it also got rave reviews when it premiered at Theatre Royal Bath last summer.

Theatre Royal Bath, which is behind the show with Jonathan Church Productions, has revived Blithe Spirit with the same cast - most notably Saunders as the flamboyant clairvoyant Madame Arcati.

There's a while until Madame Arcati makes her appearance in the first of the three acts but when she does, there's a ripple of excitement that runs through the audience.

It's no wonder as Saunders has become a well-loved figure through her success with The Comic Strip Presents . . ., her long comedy partnership with Dawn French and then Absolutely Fabulous. But for some people, they were so excited to see her, she made them laugh just by being there on stage.

With higher expectations than that, I noticed that there were elements of zany characters from the 1980's show French & Saunders that the comedian brings to this performance. Every subtle movement, eyebrow tilt and word has obviously been meticulously planned and it works as the result is screams of laughter. She's aided by an acutely funny Coward script too.

Saunders makes it look effortless, but it's her decades of experience in the comedy world, which makes her perfectly cast as the eccentric psychic who brings chaos to the Condomine household.

Opposite her is a slick Geoffrey Streatfeild as widower Charles Condomine, whose life with his new wife goes awry when the ghost of his dead first wife Elvira turns up after a séance.


The sprits moving Jennifer Saunders as Madame Arcati

He's a writer, very much in the mould of Noël Coward, and the play is a mix of matrimonial bickering and the antics of messing with the occult with the usual Coward fast word play and misunderstandings.

Lisa Dillon as second wife Ruth Condomine is a steady hand at the centre of everything, helping to keep the momentum going when the comedy speeds up. Her spark with Emma Naomi, playing a cool and catty Elvira, works well as the two women are supposed to be at loggerheads.

The dark horse is young actress Rose Wardlaw as hapless maid Edith, who has a little of the Julie Walters about her and is a name to look out for in the future. She's excellently daft and often grabs the attention with her antics at the back of the room.

Sumptuous stagings and delightful special effects that make Elvira have an ethereal quality, shimmering in blue light, add to the gloss on this high-class production. There are some nice touches with ghostly goings-on, particularly for a big finale but it's the character-led attention to detail that is a real winner.

To say it is absolutely fabulous would be a bit of a cliche, given that it stars Jennifer Saunders, but it is an all-round excellent production from start to finish that is a pure joy to watch. To 01-02-20.

Alison Brinkworth


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