Blithe Spirit - directed by Jo Fosker
"It's a while since I visited Phoenix Players, so it was with great expectations that I went along to see their latest production - Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. Having played Madam Arcati years ago, this is a show that I love and know well.
Blithe Spirit opened in Manchester and transferred to the Piccadilly Theatre, London opening on 02 July 1941. It ran for 1,997 performances and out lasted World War Two. It held the record for number of performances in the West End until overtaken by The Mousetrap. The plot is based around a sťance held by author, Mr Condomine, who is writing a book and seeking information. He invites a local medium, Madame Arcati, to conduct this for him, at his home with friends Dr and Mrs Bradman. He hopes to expose the medium as a fake and use the results as material for his book. Unfortunately, she produces the ghost of his late wife, Elvira, who only he can see which results in huge confusion and chaos for everyone.
I have to say that this production was very enjoyable. The level of acting was excellent and the experienced cast gave the audience a great night out, showing what an accomplished, amateur society can achieve. Full marks go to debut director Jo Fosker, for working so hard to produce this show. I understand that she had various cast problems and had to step in herself at short notice. This is something most directors are not keen on as it can hinder rehearsals.
The tabs opened to a super set with beautiful Laura Ashley wallpaper, an old sofa, chairs and various props which suited the period. Upstage, French windows opened to a garden and there were doors on each of the side flats. A lot of work had obviously been done on the set, so well done to all concerned.
The first scene, in the Condomine's living room, we meet Charles and Ruth. Charles is a smooth, debonair, incorrigibly selfish, husband to Ruth. Kenton Church played this role with panache. He was rarely off stage and had a huge amount of script to learn. Kenton is a very confident and assured performer, who rarely lets any director down and is a joy to watch on stage.
His wife - Ruth (Becky Smart) was the wonderfully brittle and no nonsense second wife to Charles. Beautifully spoken with a clear projection, she gave a very poised performance and was a good foil to Kenton as Charles. This is the first time I have seen Becky on stage and I hope it won't be the last as she was excellent.
Dr and Mrs Bradman (Syd Smith and Angela Gee) were wonderful. How lovely to see them both on stage again. They are always so professional and engaging whenever I see them acting and it was a delight to watch them both.
Madame Arcati (Helen Langley) was a complete joy. As the slightly eccentric medium, she held the stage and certainly enjoyed every moment. This role was famously played by the marvellous Margaret Rutherford and there were definite shades of this lady in Helen's portrayal. This was super work Helen, well done.
Edith the incompetent maid was taken on by director Jo Fosker and really was fun to watch. Jo obviously has good comic timing and although the role is small, gave us a very believable comical character.
The accolades however, have to go to Katherine Tokley as Elvira. Here we simply had a really accomplished actress who really knows how to work the stage. Her languid movements as she almost floated around the stage with her stunning red hair, ghostly makeup and dress with an eloquent refined voice gave us a very believable ghost. Congratulations Katherine on a really excellent portrayal.
Lighting and sound was simple but effective with a green follow spot used on both the ghosts. Costumes were a bit hit and miss but on the whole acceptable for this show. I would like to have seen Ruth in a wig to keep with the period, rather than the very modern short hair that she has.
Congratulations to all cast and crew for this super production. It was just such a shame that more people did not come to support as it deserved full houses. Well done everyone."