Through October 8
Noel Coward’s BLITHE SPIRIT Shaw Festival/Festival Theatre
By Augustine Warner
Noel Coward has been dead for a half-century but some of his plays have long survived him, plays like “Blithe Spirit” and “Hay Fever.”
There’s proof of it this season on the Shaw Festival’s stage in the Festival Theatre.
It’s lavish and well done, in keeping with the traditions of that stage and Coward plays generally.
The one hole in the production is that you can’t always hear some of the performers, particularly Donna Soares’ Ruth.
Not sure if it was my aging ears, I asked the guy in the next seat and his response was: “I thought it might just be me.”
Anyway, many of you probably know the story, the medium who is suckered in by a well-known English novelist to do a séance to give Charles (Damien Atkins) material for his next novel.
When Madame Arcati (Deborah Hay) cycles up to the palatial country house to do her thing, she prepares for two couples.
While a medium since she was a toddler, the surprise is that Charles goes crazy during the séance and announces his first wife, Elvira (Julia Course) has come back from the dead and no one believes him.
This gives way to skepticism from new wife Ruth about the re-birth and confusion as Charles flips back and forth in conversation with former wife and current wife as Elvira sashays around the set in a light green cloth swirl.
When Madame Arcati comes back, she’s asked to send Elvira away, only to find out the first wife has sabotaged the family car and Ruth is now dead and accidentally brought back so that Charles has to deal with both.
Madame Arcati spends a long night with Charles and the two ectoplasms before she discovers Edith the maid (Katherine Gauthier) is the key to why everything happens.
Knowing that, the medium can make the two wives go away, leaving Charles clear.
However, she warns him they are still around and he ought to leave town.
All during this, under psychic pressure parts of the set fall apart and giant drapes fall to the floor, exposing the vast windows looking out across the southeast of England, one of the most scenic areas.
Set and costume designer James Lavoie has mixed both theatrical aspects and created this giant green room with a towering ceiling, giant fireplace and this vast painting above the mantel which actually changes during the show.
Charles and the local physician, Dr. Bradman (David Adams), get these wonderful costumes using some sort of metallic, many-colored material.
They are a long way from the original opening time of this play, the London of 1941, a city so devastated by aerial bombing that the Opening Night crowd walked across debris, on the way to the show.
They were just looking for a break, some entertainment as an alternative to war and they got it in Coward’s string of successes in wartime.
Now, it’s different, with war far away and the audiences still looking for that relieving break.
See “Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.
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