by Noel Coward.
Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue W W1D 7EZ To 18 June 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 8 March.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4658.
Specific access needs: 0844 482 9677.
Not so blithe, though looking bonny.
Being frivolous to be profound was something Noel Coward perfected like no other. Some of his best plays –Private Lives, Design for Living – achieve this quite brilliantly. Blithe Spirit isn’t among them, though Coward himself seemed very pleased with the piece. “I shall ever be grateful for the almost psychic gift that enabled me to write Blithe Spirit in five days during one of the darkest years  of the war.”
Written, typically, at a gallop, the comedy plays with the paranormal with supreme confidence if on a purely superficial level.. The public took the play immediately to their hearts, enabling it to run for over 2000 performances in London after its premiere in Manchester.
Thea Sharrock’s Theatre Royal Bath production has also been on the road after opening last November in Bath. It boasts a handsome art deco set (and some superbly stylish couture) from designer Hildegard Bechtler.
Alison Steadman in the role of eccentric medium, Madame Arcati (famously associated with Margaret Rutherford) was eagerly awaited but is ultimately disappointing. Not for one moment did I believe in Steadman’s booming, Clarissa Dixon Wright of a Madame Arcati, summoned for a little light sport by pompous thriller writer Charles Condomine (where did Coward get that name?). Mediums can look and be remarkably ordinary yet do extraordinary things. Skipping round the stage in preparation for her next trance Steadman cuts an occasionally amusing but caricature figure.
Far more engaging are Hermione Norris (late of Spooks) and Ruthie Henshall, as the two competitive, supposedly jealous wives – though why any woman should be falling over Robert Bathurst’s Charles – one of his more lacklustre performances – is a mystery. Henshall though is a total delight with a deliciously mischievous glint in the eye, Norris all sharp angles and exasperation.
Sharrock raises a few laughs with Jodie Taibi’s original and comic maid. But there are far too few in a play that now seems desperately outdated and confirms, if you wanted to get serious, the undercover misogyny that lurked within Coward along with the other hidden emotions that made his better plays so potent.
Edith: Jodie Taibi.
Ruth: Hermione Norris.
Charles: Robert Bathurst.
Dr Bradman: Bo Poraj.
Mrs Bradman: Charlotte Thornton.
Madame Arcati: Alison Steadman.
Elvira: Ruthie Henshall.
Director: Thea Sharrock.
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Associate director: Robert Icke.