An energetic Pitlochry revival of Coward’s fantasy comedy
“Hail to thee, blithe spirit”. Noel Coward’s classic comic conjuring with the dark arts has joined the musical cantrips of Summer Holiday in repertoire at Pitlochry.
First produced in Manchester in 1941, Coward eventually took over the lead role after it had transferred to London’s West End, where it held the record for longevity until Agatha Christie’s murderous Mousetrap came along.
Coward’s work is rarely in danger of being caught in a time warp, but director Gemma Fairlie’s tinkering with the script and action brings an even more contemporary feel to it. And the introduction of an iPad, capable (and often incapable) of operating lights, music and curtains, brings an added comedic boost.
There is also a bit of gender swapping – wacky maid Edith is now zany manservant Eddie (excellent comic performance from David Rankine, with more than a nodding tribute to Hugh Skinner of Fleabag and W1A fame).
Novelist Charles Condomine (a sonorous Ali Watt) wishes to learn about the occult for his latest tome, and invites medium Madame Arcati (Deirdre Davis at her eccentric best) to hold a séance. Along with friends Dr and Mrs Bradman (Harry Long and Tilly-Mae Millbrook), they all have a bit of a giggle, but all is not as it seems. Madame Arcati accidentally summons up Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years – but only he can see and hear her. Barbara Hockaday as Elvira is well in tune with her vampish alter ego. Much mayhem ensues as second wife Ruth (Claire Dargo taking exasperation to new levels), is finally convinced of the spirit’s presence and her dastardly desire to kill Charles so he can join her on the “other side”.
Designer Adrian Rees’ all-white set is magnificent. A spirited production all round.
Blithe Spirit is on at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, continuing on various dates until September 28.