Sara Topham (left) as Ruth, Ben Carlson as Charles and Michelle Giroux as Elvira in Blithe Spirit. Photo by David Hou.
Reviewed by James Karas
If Tommy made your stomach vibrate, Blithe Spirit will soothe your soul and make you laugh at a delightful comedy from another era and, yes, another world. Noel Coward’s comedy should delight people during the summer and well into the fall at the Avon Theatre.
Much of the credit goes to its director Brian Bedford. He has a fine ear and feel for comedies of wit which require impeccable delivery, perfect timing and that indefinable quality called style. The play exists in its own world, however, distant it may be from us and the director, and actors must create an atmosphere that is both convincing and utterly entertaining.
Coward wrote Blithe Spirit during World War II when the Luftwaffe was bombing London and the Allies were being hammered by the Axis powers. Blithe Spirit could not be farther from the war and it is a perfect escapist comedy.
Novelist Charles (Ben Carlson) has invited Madame Arcati (Seana McKenna), an eccentric medium, for a séance to communicate with the other world. He just wants to get some background information for his next novel. The result is that his dead first wife Elvira (Michelle Giroux) appears, ethereal and beautiful, and can only be seen by him. You can imagine how his second wife Ruth (Sara Topham) will react to the new guest.
Among a number of superb performances, I give the laurel wreath to Topham. She jumps from the teenage Juliet to the middle-aged Ruth and does the role with style, perfect articulation and comic intelligence. She is simply a pleasure to watch.
Carlson plays the overwrought husband who finds himself with two wives in the house. Each wife wants to get rid of the other but Ruth cannot see or hear Elvira. Impeccable delivery by Carlson.
Giroux’s Elvira, in see-through attire, is sultry and sexy the way Ruth is reserved and proper. She floats around the set as becomes a spirit and is quite amusing.
Seana McKenna seems to be having the time of her life as the other-worldly Madame Arcati. The medium goes into a trance, collapses on the floor, flails her arms and is given numerous opportunities for comic over-acting. McKenna takes advantage of every such opportunity and milks every possible laugh out of the meaty role.
Coward liked putting eccentric servants in some of his plays and Edith (Susie Burnett), the house maid is no exception. She is from the navy and has the habit of sprinting from one place to the next. Burnett gets the laughs intended for her role.
James Blendick and Wendy Thatcher are the necessary plot movers as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. They are the dinner guests for the séance and they do their job.
The set by designer Simon Higlett represents the type of brightly lit, well-furnished drawing room that you wish you lived in. Men wear tuxedos and women long gowns for dinner and fine suits as casual wear as envisioned by Costume Designer Katherine Lubienski. The whole thing defines a splendid way of life in rural England that is even more attractive for being imaginary.
One more compliment to Bedford. He pays attention to every detail of the dialogue and the actors’ movements. He does not miss an intonation or a pause that will produce a laugh where none would be apparent in the script. For example, in one scene, Charles is trying to humour Ruth after the previous night’s row. She is unresponsive and at one point he comments that “you are very glacial this morning.” Bedford inserts a very slight pause before the word glacial and the line becomes funny.
A thoroughly enjoyable production.______
Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward opened on June 1 and will in repertory until October 20, 2013 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca