Before the modern global obsession with vampires, werewolves, zombies and children who claim ‘I see dead people,’ there was Noel Coward and Blithe Spirit. Written in 1941 Blithe Spirit is a comic play, about a socialite and novelist Charles Condomine whose dead wife Elvira comes back to haunt him. She materialises in a rather fetching way, after he invites the eccentric medium Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a seance, hoping to gather material for his next book. Elvira is intent on making mischief between Charles and his second wife Ruth who can’t see Elvira and it is this situation which provides much of the astral comedy. I have been directing Blithe Spirit at the Little Theatre in Gateshead for the past few months and it is being performed this week to a modern 2012 audience. Much of Coward’s dialogue remains as delicious today as it was seventy years ago. The original Madame Arcati was famously played on stage and in the film version by the glorious Margaret Rutherford but our 2012 version is just as delightfully dotty.
I’m as hungry as a hunter!
Magnificent modern medium
The film appeared in 1945 and was billed as a ‘spicy screen comedy’ and starred screen hearthrob of the day, Rex Harrison. A musical version High Spirits, appeared in 1964. During WWII Great Britain was suffering severe casualties and facing German bombing attacks at home and Coward felt that British audiences would welcome a bit of escapism. How right he was.The play’s run of 1,997 consecutive performances set a record for non-musical plays in the West End that was not surpassed until Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. More Ghostly Drama