The horse I invested the Hall squillions on in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (see earlier blog) threw in the towel after a couple of fences. Backed into 8/1 from 20/1 it was clearly subsumed by expectations. Horses are like that. They don’t read the form book. Probably a good job as expectations and performance rarely marry on the turf. Especially at Cheltenham.
Maddeningly, but interestingly, theatre is sometimes the same. Since starting this blog Still Life has matched my expectations and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has exceeded them but a couple of others have fallen a tad short of the form book ratings. Blithe Spirit, the Rep’s March offering, fell into that latter category. In trainer speak it didn’t run up to expectations. It should have done. Anna Carter–Brown was a beautifully enunciated and ice cold Ruth Condomine and Matthew Flitton her clear and crisp husband Charles. They pleasingly echoed both the Coward style and those smug Leadbetter’s from The Good Life. Nothing wrong with that. Elvira, the ghost of the husband’s first wife, was a polished Kate Redding and, effortlessly stealing the evening, Angela Goss was a magnificently comic Madam Arcati.
So why did I not get that frothy zing that the evening should have given me? Madam Arcati splendidly conjures up the spirit of the first wife and the subsequent mayhem but she was doing it against a black walled set which spelt out glum despondency. Our Noel wouldn’t like it. You have to work hard in such a setting and, for all their skills, the Condomine’s sparkling and pithy wit seemed a little laboured. Little wonder that Mr Flitton injected a few intrusive comic poses. I can see why director Joe Butcher put second wife Ruth in a black dress, a contrast for the ghostly white of Elvira, but it didn’t work. The overall effect, underpinned by mournful music and bland stage lighting, was pervading gloom. The actors fought against it, they were good enough, but it was a losing battle.
Oh all right I am being snotty. Alistair Brown and Sue Young gave classy support as the peripheral Bradman’s and Jenny Monaghan’s maid was an absolute delight. Her mannered walks were executed to perfection. But Blithe Spirit is not about them. It is about the Condomines, alive and dead, and the eccentric nutcase who conducts the séances. Arguably Miss Redding’s Elvira was a little too polished. A lighter mischievousness combining with a sharper razor from the Condomines would have heightened the sexual tension. But this is detail. This cast were up against it as soon as the curtain went up on the set. Bit like my horse in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when he saw the first fence.
Christine Hobart skilfully played that mournful music on her clarinet. Graham Chapell created some nice lighting moods even if I didn’t like the central stagey atmosphere of the living room. And whoever dressed Angela Goss deserves a medal. Shall share it between her and Christine Sinfield. And that is what I left this production remembering. Madam Arcati and her bags, her clothes, and her offstage bike. And Blithe Spirit is, or should be, much more than that.