Maitland Repertory Theatre (ends October 1)
NOEL Coward labelled Blithe Spirit an “improbable farce”, but while it has enjoyable farcical elements it is overall a satirical comedy about love and marriage. And while it was written 75 years ago, the writing continues to be sharply funny.
Sadly, the wit and humour were largely missing from the first night of this production. The laughs were few and far between, with the actors’ delivery of the dialogue and actions not crisp enough for the most part.
The central character is Charles Condomine, a novelist who invites a psychic medium, Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance in his living room because he plans to include a murderous clairvoyant in his latest story.
But the words of the eccentric woman lead to the spirit of Charles’s long-dead first wife, Elvira, returning. And, as she is unseen and unheard by all except Charles, his second wife, Ruth, is less than amused. The reactions of Charles, however, indicate that he is more attracted to the “morally untidy” Elvira than to the demanding Ruth.
Director Leilani Boughton hasn’t drawn enough colour from the performers, with ironically the actor in the smallest role – Laura Nightingale as new young maid Edith – best at bringing out the laughs.
Dimity Eveleens needs to show more of the quirky eccentricity of Madame Arcati as she moves around the living room and tries to get those taking part in the séance in appropriate places and the right mood.
Steve Ryan is too one-note as Charles, a writer skilled at his work but continually finding himself under pressure from Ruth to do things the way she wants them done. There is clearly more to his joking remark that perhaps they should let the ghost stay, but there is insufficient sign of the return of Charles’s affection for Elvira in Ryan’s delivery of his words.
There is also too little contrast between Kellie Taylor’s Elvira and Aimee Cavanagh’s Ruth. Elvira, as written, is adept at bringing back happy memories for Charles of their years together, but her manipulative ability is too low key here. Ruth’s sharply down-to-earth way of looking at things likewise is insufficiently presented.
Robert Comber and Carrie Manen, as a doctor and his wife invited to be part of the séance, are also two-dimensional.
The elegant set, designed by the director and Dimity Eveleens, and the 1940s costumes, colourfully set the scene. Hopefully, the depth of the performances will increase as the season progresses, so that there is colour all round.