HARLOW THEATRE COMPANY.
Coward’s most enduring work from the war years was of course the hugely successful black comedy Blithe Spirit which he wrote in 1941. With 1,997 consecutive performances, it broke box-office records for the run of a West End comedy, and was also produced on Broadway, where its original run was 650 performances. The play was adapted into a 1945 film, directed, again, by David Lean.
The title of the play is taken from Shelley’s poem To a Skylark (‘Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!’). For some time before 1941 Coward had been thinking of a comedy about ghosts. His first thoughts centred on an old house in Paris, haunted by spectres from different centuries, with the comedy arising from their conflicting attitudes, but he could not get the plot to work in his mind. He knew that in wartime Britain, with death a constant presence, there would be some objection to a comedy about ghosts, but his firm view was that as the story would be thoroughly heartless, ‘you can’t sympathise with any of them. If there was a heart it would be a sad story’.
Coward actually wrote the play during a short holiday in Portmeirion, north Wales, where he was forced to retreat to after his office and home had been bombed during the London Blitz. While on holiday he focused on his writing and Blithe Spirit, a light comedy in three acts, was born. Coward said of his writing retreat:
‘For six days I worked from eight to one each morning and from two to seven each afternoon. On Friday evening, May ninth, the play was finished and, disdaining archness and false modesty, I will admit that I knew it was witty, I knew it was well constructed, and I also knew that it would be a success.’
And it certainly has been a success in the intervening years, along with all the rest of Coward’s work. As well as the initial West End and Broadway runs, Coward directed a musical adaptation, High Spirits, on Broadway in 1964. It was also adapted for television in the 1950s and 1960s and for radio. The play enjoyed several West End and Broadway revivals in the 1970s and 1980s and was revived again in London in 2004, 2011 and 2014.
Blithe Spirit is set in the house of debonair, well-to-do writer, Charles Condomine, and his elegant and sophisticated wife, Ruth. One evening, Charles invites local eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a seance at his house. He asks along his friends, Dr and Mrs Bradman, intending to gather character inspiration from Madame Arcati for his latest book. With much scepticism around the table towards Madame Arcati’s abilities, and the occult in general, the guests leave, initially thinking that the seance has been a failure. However, the reference to ‘blithe spirit’ in the title suggests otherwise and it soon becomes clear that Madame Arcati has indeed been
successful and has brought a ghostly presence into the house. The resulting havoc which ensues is highly entertaining as Charles’s position and relationship with Ruth are well and truly put to the test. Intensely funny and character-driven, Blithe Spirit combines farce, emotion, and wit to great effect.
Coward’s work and style still continue to influence popular culture, and the former Albery Theatre (originally the New Theatre) in London was renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in his honour in 2006. He eventually received his knighthood in 1969!
Edith - Gemma Colton
Ruth Condomine -Michelle Jimenez-Alder
Charles Condomine - Clive Weatherley
Dr Bradman - Barry Bowen
Mrs Bradman - Jocelyn Johnson
Madame Arcati - Helga Kilroy
Elvira - Pamela Self-Pierson
Director – Leo Appleton
Set Design – Brett Stevens
Lighting Design – Tom Richards
Sound Design – Sarah Wiggins
Costume Design – Jocelyn Johnson
Properties – Alyssa Upton
Art Design – Paul Johnson
Stage Manager – Paul Johnson
ASMs Alyssa Upton, Marcie Appleton, Joe Bishop,
Mel Guest, Lisa Gould
Set Construction: Brett Stevens, Steve Dove, Leo Appleton,
Melissa Guest, Paul Johnson
Production Photography - Mel Guest
Marketing – Jody Randall
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank our sponsors for their support throughout 2017 and Jane Miles for her artistic support of the production.