‘Blithe Spirit’ is one of Noël Coward’s most popular and funniest plays. Born in the last couple of weeks of the 19th century, Coward died 50 years ago in Jamaica, leaving his estate to his 20 years younger spouse, actor Graham Payn. Written in 1941 in Wales, as the London Blitz was taking place, the play only took one week to write. At that time, he was the highest earning writer in the western world.
This exceptionally fine show by PAANDA (The Performing Arts Association of Notre Dame Australia) can be seen in the Prindiville Hall at 25 Mouat Street, Fremantle.
The curtain goes up on the two-and-a-half-hour performances at 7.30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings until 13th November.
The scene: 1940. A substantial house in its own grounds, in the ‘Garden of England’ – Kent.
The set: A good, solid, and well-designed set by Will Evans and Amy Hannaford.
The large lounge and dining room of the Condomines have walls that are aubergine with white woodwork and trims. To one side is a laced curtain window overlooking the estate. Centre stage is a brick fireplace with a white mantlepiece and wooden fire surround. In the corner is a door leading to a hallway. On the rear wall is a combined ‘versatile’ bookcase and sideboard.
The furnishings and props (sourced by Holly Lynch) included a wine trolley, a dark oak framed three-piece suite. A side table with crystal stemmed lamp. An HMV oak gramophone with brass horn. The dining table was covered in lace tablecloths and surrounded by four dark oak dining chairs. An Axminster carpet covered the sitting room floor.
Lighting design: With a very limited lighting grid, but a good quality set of LED lamps, Cat Acres produced an even lighting over the room. She managed to pick out props like the gramophone when required and gave Elvira a ghostly blue glow. Clever lighting.
The sound effects: designed by Hannah Quaden and operated by Ella Cooke added to the atmosphere.
It is evening, and novelist Charles Condomine (Josh McNeill – great style) – who else but Coward would dare call the lead ‘condom mine’? and his new, but second wife, Ruth (Maddy Holland) are awaiting the arrival of their closest friends, Dr Bradman (Indy O’Dea) and Mrs Bradman (Lily Slattery). The group are gathering because Charles is researching Mediums for a ghost story that he is writing. He has invited Madame Arcati (Matthew Jones) whom they believe is a charlatan, to give them a séance in order to copy her techniques in his novel.
As the overanxious maid, Edith (Orla Poole) bustles and runs around, the Medium arrives followed soon after by the mysterious Elvira (Jasmin Milne).
Will Charles get what he expected? Or much more?
‘Blithe Spirit’ has been directed by Georgia Comerford with skill and imagination, and yet she is directing for the first time. Amazing quality.
The costume design was by Bec Simpkins and her assistant Eloise Budimlich. The ladies’ outfits were stunning. The ghost’s silver silk dress helped with the ethereal effect. The hair and makeup were subtle and believable; how often do we see stage makeup ladled on? The makeup, hair, suits and clothes were all accurate for the early Forties.
A couple of minor complaints. The sling was on the wrong arm, according to the dialogue. The high-quality, beautifully designed programme had pale mauve writing on a purple background in a very thin, fine font. I could not read this in the auditorium and had to wait until back home, with a good light – and yes, I am an optometrist, but this did not help either. The interval was far too long and with one poor young lady trying to make and serve tea, coffee, or wine and chocolates, and then take payment, perhaps the stage staff can help initially before preparing for the next act.
Having had my minor whinge, I can now declare this is one of the best all-round plays that I have seen for some time. The pace was unrelenting. The cast were reasonably inexperienced, yet one would assume that they had years of stage experience behind them. The chemistry and interactions were perfect. With every actor scoring at least 8 out of 10. However, two actors deserve special mentions. Maddy Holland (Ruth Condomine) with a long tricky script and having to show a collection of emotions, and Matthew Jones (Madame Arcati) who was seen exactly three years ago in ‘Charlie’s Aunt’ has honed his comedy skills even more and gave, what I considered, this year’s best male, community theatre performance – he deserves the Barry Humphries’ award for characterisation. Matthew presented his lines with authority, emotion and with every muscle in his body and face working.
A tremendous laugh. Highly recommended. Unquestionably pure quality from a relatively inexperienced cast.