Farewell Blithe Spirit

Did you feel that draft up your dress?

 

Why can’t anyone see me?!

This week’s run of the glorious Blithe Spirit at the Little Theatre in Gateshead continues. Audiences are clapping after every scene which has got to be a good sign. In an era where British culture seems to be becoming defined by reality TV and gossip about celebrities and their bad behaviour, it is gratifying to see a Theatre which is very much a part of the local community, packed to the rafters with people chortling at at Noel Cowards’s timeless ‘improbable farce.’ Talk about David Cameron’s Big Society. This is a Theatre which considers less than 80% capacity for every show a bit of a  flop (most professional Theatres would kill for that!) and receives no subsidy from anywhere let alone our esteemed Arts Council.

Is she barmy?

 

Eggstraordinary!

 

The Little Theatre was built in 1943 for the company of the ‘Progressive Players’ who formed in 1920. In the true spirit of the blitz, the Little Theatre Gateshead  was the only Theatre in the country which stayed open during the WWII. It was founded by the Dodds sisters from Gateshead who were educated liberal women of their day. With great foresight, the sisters put up the money to buy the site and build the theatre and all three took an active part in the production of plays. I’m sure they would have loved this production of Blithe Spirit. Noel Coward might not have liked women all that much but he knew how to write damn good parts for them!  Farewell Blithe Spirit
File:Gateshead Blue Plaque- Dodds Sisters.JPG
Women of substance

 

I haven’t stuffed the mushrooms!

 

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

 

 

Gorgeous ghosty

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

 

 

A community gem

Saturday night was the last peformance of Blithe Spirit at the the Little Theatre in Gateshead. The production was hailed a triumph with a 91% overall audience attendance which is pretty impressive in anyone’s book. One nice chap told me it ‘couldn’t have been better with professional players’ and all the positive feedback made me think that it was worth all the hard work. Directing is definitely work, it requires you to be the responsible parent. Acting is more of the child role and consequently usually more fun.

Spooky Sponge

The after show party was jolly good fun and included a lot of carbohydrate consumption and some dancing. Jenny the lady doing the lights works at Costco and got them to do us a rather splendid and sizeable ghostly cake which I scoffed in large quantities throughout the week. How I didn’t put myself into a diabetic coma with all the sugar consumption I’ll never know.