Written by famous playwright/actor/composer/director/singer/all-around talented person Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit is an escapist comedy in which a deceased wife comes back as a ghost to see her former husband, and perhaps cause a little mischief in his current marriage.
While I really enjoyed the technical elements of Blithe Spirit (playing at Walterdale Theatre until February 15th), I found the play a bit too over-the-top for me to fully engage in it. As an audience member, I accept that what’s happening on stage is a work of fiction, but while I’m in the theatre I want to be so absorbed in the play that I suspend my disbelief and fully enter in to the world of the play. With over-exaggerated movements, expressions, and vocal tone, the characters in Blithe Spirit were played to such an extreme I couldn’t believe that they could be real people and so kept being “thrown out” of the world of the play by the realization that it was a performance. Adding to this was the sense that the characters were more static than dynamic and didn’t change much over the course of the play. For example, the interaction between husband and wife Charles and Ruth was exactly the same at their formal dinner party with the Bradman’s as their interaction when they were alone. One theme that emerged early on and would have been really interesting to see it carried through was the idea of honesty versus dishonesty and, as the character Charles (played by John Evans) comments – how people are more shocked by honesty than by dishonesty. While the extreme politeness between Charles and Ruth (played by Marsha Amanova) was fitting in the dinner party scenes, when it carried over into the scenes where the couple was alone, it seemed out of place and broke the illusion that I was immersed in something that was really happening. Perhaps it’s just me, but I certainly don’t act the same with my partner when we’re alone versus with our friends. Had more of the scenes been performed in a way that more closely matches how a husband and wife (whether alive or ethereal) truly interact, I think Blithe Spirit would have captured the humour of a situation you know can’t possibly happening and the hilarious “anything goes” attitude that develops when it is happening. However, for the most part, the humour in the play came from “cheap laughs” where we were laughing at Madame Arcati’s eccentricities (performed by the wonderful Francie Goodwin-Davies, who appeared in Jeannette in The Full Monty last year), but not really the situation, action, and plot of the play.
On the other hand, I really loved the costuming of Elvira as a ghost. When I was preparing to see the show, I wasn’t sure how the dead former wife would be visually distinguished from the living. Costume Designer Kristen Welker did a fantastic job by dressing Elvira in a grey dress, shoes, wig and lipstick to indicate that she was a ghost, versus the other actors who were clad in rich, bold colors. This simple, understated technique made it immediately obvious Elvira was a ghost without having to rely on special effects like smoke or having the actress suspended and flying around the room, although the patio doors that opened on their own accord when Elvira walked towards them were pretty fantastic as well.
Blithe Spirit runs at Walterdale Theatre February 5 – 15 (except February 10). Performances are at 8:00 pm, except for the 2:00 pm Sunday matinee. Tickets are $11 – $18 depending on the date and time and can be bought at Tix on the Square. Schedule information is also available on YEGlive.ca.