Blithe Spirit

Written on March 3rd, 2015

Living with the After-Life

Two things are clear: First, this Noel Coward comedy, Blithe Spirit, withstands the test of time.  Secondly, Angela Lansbury, the actress who is now 89, more than withstands the test of time.  Blithe Spirit, starring the indomitable Angela Lansbury, is currently on stage at Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. blithe_spirit

Sometimes, when you go to see an elderly star on stage, you have to indulge them.  Simply because of who they are, you can overlook a flubbed line, or a missed cue, or a slow delivery.  This is NOT the case with Angela Lansbury.  It is unbelievable that she is 89:  her comedic timing is perfect, her voice strong, her lines clear, and her energy amazing.  Regularly, she does a zany dance with legs kicking and arms flailing, to the delight of the audience.

Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in the 1940s, perhaps as a silly supernatural story to offer Londoners relief from World War II.  In the story, Charles is a writer who wants to study Madame Arcati, a psychic who conjures up spirits from the past.   Charles is obviously skeptical about the supernatural, but plays along with her as research for his next book.  Much to his surprise, the ghost of his late, first wife, Elivra, shows up, making life miserable for his current wife, Ruth, even though Charles is the only one who can see and hear Elivra.

Lansbury is perfection as Madame Arcati.  She has captured all the craziness of the medium, or is it the ability to fake craziness? Lansbury credits Danny Kaye with teaching her about comedy, and her portrayal of Madame Arcati is certainly Danny Kaye inspired.

Charles Edwards is the writer who actually enjoys having his two wives fight over him.  You might recognize Edwards from his role on Downton Abby; he is Lady Edith’s missing publisher/lover.  Elvira, the ghost, is played with great energy by Jemima Rooper.  She, too, may look familiar as the nasty fiancé in the Kinky Boots movie.  Charlotte Parry is excellent as Ruth, the second wife, who now has to share her husband with his past.  Susan Louise O’Connor is hilarious as Edith the maid, who feels compelled to run about the house and has to be reminded constantly to walk.

With today’s fascination with occult, psychics, mediums, and the afterlife, Blithe Spirit is a timely reminder that we often take ourselves way too seriously. The hilarious antics of this other-world cast is still so funny, 70+ years later.

And Angela Lansbury, heading towards her 90th birthday, leads the way with liveliness.

Blithe Spirit continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre until March 15.  Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit for tickets.

Photo: Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati.

Blithe Spirit
By Noel Coward
Directed by Michael Blackmore
Performed by Angela Lansbury, Charles Edwards, Jemima Rooper, Charlotte Parry, Simon Jones, Susan Louise O’Connor & Sandra Shipley.
David Mirvish Presentation
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
February 11 – March 15, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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