Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

The spirit is willing . . .

Improving reception: Edith the maid, played by Christine Bland, is a conduit to the other side in the hands of medium Madame Arcati played by Ros Davies. Pictures: Roy Palmer.

Blithe Spirit

Hall Green Little Theatre


NOEL Coward’s ghostly comedy was hit by rather more earthly problems in this spirited production.

With Linda Neale who plays Ruth, one of the key roles, taken ill, director Louise Price had to step in at the last minute, script in hand, to fill the breach.

And, in a sort of rehearsed reading performance, she did well enough so that after a while you hardly noticed her script in hand, but such a handicap to a production is a bit like playing the piano with a sticking plaster on one finger; it disrupts the flow and takes away a play's natural rhythm, which is a pity as this had the makings of a fine staging and had attracted a full house.

The play, written by Coward in 1941 while on holiday in  Portmeirion after his London flat had been destroyed in the Blitz, revolves around novelist Charles Condomine, played with his usual assurance by Jon Richardson, who arranges a séance to gather ideas and material for his next book.

He invites along his friend and GP Dr George Bradman and his wife, played by Andrew Cooley and Esther Roden, and the flamboyant, larger than life medium and psychic, Madame Arcati, played with a glorious sense of exuberant fun by Ros Davies in a memorable performance.

To say the guests are skeptical would be akin to saying the Pope might possibly be Catholic. It was all for amusement as far as they were concerned; all smoke and mirrors, a bit of a laugh but useful as background for Charles’s next book – until his ex-wife Elvira, who died seven years ago, pops up from the other side – and Charles is the only one who can see or hear her.

In rehearsal Charles, played by Jon Richardson finds wife number one Elvira, played by Zofja Zolna, is back to haunt . . . or is it flaunt him

Zofja Zolna is a delight as the ghostly Elvira, flighty, coquettish, full of mischief - and eager to get her hands once more on Charles.

The major obstacle in that particular ambition being wife No 2 Ruth who has the distinct advantage in the battle for Charles of actually being alive

Charles’s dilemma in holding two conversations simultaneously with two wives – and one can’t see or hear the other, or at first even believe she exists – leads to scenes of amusing confusion and unintended offence but out of it all Charles, who has been a ladies’ man in his past, starts to see a little of the truth of what he had let himself into when he said I do . . . twice. One is not quite as faithful as he thought – although Charles had his own form in that particular arena - the other is not quite as loving and a little more controlling than he remembered.

Clumping round in the background through it all is Edith the maid, who rushes around like an Olympic sprinter (in hob nailed boots) until told to slow down when she then moves at the pace of a deep sea diver in lead boots; an amusing performance from Christine Bland.

The set design of a rather superior lounge from Roy Palmer has a good period feel about it and has a reassuring solidity – no walls wobbling when doors open or shut here – and Heather Alexander and Paul Hartop did well with the lighting design to give us séances and ethereal glows for ghosts.

It is just a pity that unavoidable problems beyond the control of any earthly cast or crew took the edge off both pace and timing and you can only review what is, not what could or should have been. Even so it is still an amusing evening of entertainment.

Roger Clarke 

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