Reviewed by The Doorsteppa Magazine
The City Players had taken on many comedies in my two years reviewing their plays, but this was perhaps the most infamous of them all: Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’.
Described as an improbable farce, it takes place in the living room of Charles Condomine’s (Matthew Joynes) house in Kent.
The curtains opened to another impeccably lavish set, where we see author Charles and his wife Ruth (Lara Huddless) being joined by friends Doctor Bradman and his wife (played by Ron Woodward and Carole Wilkinson). We soon learn they are awaiting eccentric medium Madam Arcati (Anne Wing). She will be performing a séance to allow Charles to learn more about the occult for his new novel. Little do they know the enormous can of worms that are about to be opened!
Most will be well aware of the story, with it being adapted over the years into musicals, plays and a David Lean film in 1945. I must admit to having never seen it. Now the Corner Playhouse has unveiled its own version of this classic, they deliver two hours of the kind of drawing room comedy with enough laughs to make us all forget about our troubles for a while. My 17 year old brother, who came to his first show, even enjoyed it! And believe me that’s saying something.
Eccentric doesn’t begin to describe Anne Wing’s performance of Madame Arcati. She amazingly brings to life an unforgettable character and leaves the audience in raucous laughter whenever she utters a line. The séance scene, which unintentionally brings Charles’ deceased first wife Elvira (Amanda Whelan) to the house for an extended visit, is brilliantly done. It can certainly be described as improbably farcical, but it always felt controlled by the sterling cast.
Charles, whom Coward apparently fashioned after himself, could easily be the star of the play but at another level it is about two women, Ruth and Elvira, both of whom aren’t happy being married to Charles. We watch there disenchantment become ever more evident and watch as Charles tries to get himself out of trouble with his wives.
The two lead women in this play give us delightful performances.
As Ruth, Lara Huddless, has the prim and the proper British wife locked up. Her squeals give away transparently passionate displeasure, but she always pulls herself back into the lockstep with what she thinks her behaviour should be.
Amanda Whelan is the playful Elvira, who we learn, ‘played’ a lot while married and is intent on playing still as the all-but-invisible first wife. Charles is the only one who can see her, but her spells are cast widely through the household. The direction and set control are brilliantly handled, making the audience believe she cannot be seen.
A special word must go to Linda Munton who plays Edith, Charles’ maid. This is a role that requires understatement and naivety, both of which she plays for all it’s worth. I won’t give away the ending in case, like me, anyone hasn’t seen it, but it can definitely be described as yet another City Players triumph.
This once again proves they have a solid place in the theatre eminence in Sheffield and beyond. Noel Coward would’ve been proud.
"Raucous Laughs as City Players Take on a Classic". The Doorsteppa, Feb 2013. Print.