by Noel Coward

Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Anthony Hopkins Theatre) To 7 June 2003
Mon-Sat 2.30pm Mat at 2.30pm
Audio-described 29 May, 7 June 2.30pm
Captioned 7 June 2.30pm
Runs 2hr 50min Two intervals

TICKETS: 0845 330 3565
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 May, 2003

Terry Hands makes a repertory regular seem like a special occasion.Once the clumsily-improvised curtain (formed of two huge white sheets at an angle) pulls aside to show Emily Pithon’s maid struggling with an ill-held, over-large drinks tray – only to find, as she reaches the destined table, that it’s cluttered with a vase, you can tell you’re in safe hands – somewhat safer than the drinks. Terry Hands seems to point up every detail in Coward’s play, helped by some first-rate acting. The humour’s there, but there’s also humanity: This production makes a rather tired rep. regular glow with renewed lustre.

At the centre are three fabulously good performances. Philip Bretherton has a camp edge, but doesn’t overdo the Coward resemblance, which is just suggested in the rich voice. He has a suavity that’s not lost even in moments of confusion and irritation. To his second wife, DeNica Fairman brings a full-blown confidence that reacts sharply when her husband’s comments to the ghost of his first wife – of whose presence Ruth is unaware – seem addressed as insults to her.

This Supernatural Lives contains an individual element in Madame Arcati, who has a hearty Englishness to all but her name, bicycling everywhere with good cheer, and contacting the Psychical Research Society avidly as an Anglican clergyman might contribute biblical footnotes to a theological journal. Jane Carr, in an hilarious performance, bobs happily about – as séance-time approaches, indulging in mystic movements that have the healthy look of a callisthenics class.

All this on Mark Bailey’s cunning set, suggesting realism but entirely unrealistic, with its garden spreading to a silver-foil sea, oversize windows and a rear wall resembling a magnified Art Deco wireless-set. It’s a cunning response to the play’s stylised realism.

Lindsay Carr has an ethereal look as the ghostly Elvira though some of her expressions are merely childlike, while many of the lines sound false – an actor seeking meaning rather than a character expressing it. Still, it’s a superior production, with a neat Edith from ex-Youth Theatre member Pithon, her natural run and constrained walk under her employer’s gaze going with a sense of contained intelligence to image the gap between polite surface and an inner playfulness which turns out to have motored the plot.

Charles Condomine: Philip Bretherton
Madame Arcati: Jane Carr
Elvira: Lindsay Carr
Ruth: DeNica Fairman
Mrs Bradman: Sian Howard
Doctor Bradman: Charles Millham
Edith: Emily Pithon

Director: Terry Hands
Designer: Mark Bailey
Sound: Matthew Williams

2003-05-27 02:20:00

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