by Noel Coward.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7 DH To 23 January 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 16 Jan 4pm (+Touch Tour 3pm).
BSL Signed 19 Jan.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 December.
Playing it for real.
For a second successive year the Royal Exchange has mined World War II theatre for a Christmas production. This time it’s Noel Coward’s 1941 comedy, which dodges death and destruction with humour surrounding a novelist whose research leads to his deceased first wife’s spirit being invoked by local medium Madame Arcati. Elvira’s spirit becomes an intrusive presence in Charles Condomine’s life with second wife Ruth, before Coward develops a neatly sinister story from the situation.
Without forcing wartime parallels, Sarah Frankcom’s revival ensures the characters keep real and down-to-earth, an often successful approach, leaving the wit to spring from the writing and the actors to set it free. It works least well, though, in the pair of characters with a link to another world.
Annette Badland fusses effortfully at Madame Arcati’s first appearance (who wouldn’t – the role’s originator, Margaret Rutherford, is written right through it?). Fortunately, Badland convinces more at Arcati’s reappearances to sort out a situation that puzzles yet delights her.
Dressed in a silvery dress suggesting a virginal cocktail outfit, Nelly Harker’s Elvira has the happy irresponsibility of someone who no longer has earthly concerns to bother her. But neither she nor Frankcom quite assert the character within the action; she too often seems on the sidelines.
There can be a physical stodginess to the production, especially as Milo Twomey’s Charles and one of his wives stand facing each other through an argument, reciting lines as if the production were uncertain how to handle the situation.
If these things limit the evening, there’s still plenty to enjoy. Peter Temple and Wendy Nottingham give life to the Bradmans, makeweight visitors at the opening séance and too often makeweight overall. Nottingham casts tellingly anxious glances as the situation spirals, while Katie West moves from simple comic Maid to someone emanating a real sense of disturbance. Best of all is Suranne Jones’ Ruth, finding comedy in the sudden and apparently inexplicable changes that invade her life with the ghost she neither sees nor hears.
And, finally, the Exchange shows how, even in the Round, it’s possible to bring the house down.
Edith: Katie West.
Ruth Condomine: Suranne Jones.
Charles Condomine: Milo Twomey.
Dr Bradman: Peter Temple.
Mrs Bradman: Wendy Nottingham.
Madame Arcati: Annette Badland.
Elvira: Nellie Harker.
Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Liz Ascroft.
Lighting: Vince Herbert.
Sound: Steve Brown.
Voice/Dialect coach: Jan Haydn Rowles.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Sam Pritchard.