Friday, 14 March 2014

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!



Last night we had an enchanting and other-worldy encounter, a spellbinding visitation - and no, not just from the ghosts on the stage, but from the proximity of a true star.

An actress who was Oscar nominated (for Gaslight) in the year World War 2 ended; whose much-lauded star turn in the Broadway musical Mame was in the same year as "Busby's Babes" won the Football World Cup for England; who turned down the lead in The Killing of Sister George and the role of 'Nurse Ratched' in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; was the first 'Mrs Lovett' in Sweeney Todd; and whose role as 'Jessica Fletcher' in Murder, She Wrote (and her production company that made the show) made her at one point in the 90s the highest-paid person on American television - Dame Angela Lansbury!




The "badge of honour"

Needless to say, we were in awe. The production that lured her back to her native London was, of course, Noel Coward's sublime Blithe Spirit - an almost "Aesop-ian" allegory on the old saying "be careful what you wish for", whereby the supercilious would-be novelist ('Charles Condimine', excellently played by Downton Abbey's Charles Edwards) entices a medium (the Dame as 'Madame Arcati') who everybody considers an eccentric fake to perform a séance, purely for his research purposes. The ruse backfires as - much to the chagrin of his waspish current wife ('Ruth', a superbly 'Coward-esque' Janie Dee), the spiritual forces at work prove to be all too real, as the ghost of his flighty and selfish late first wife ('Elvira' - the joyful Jemima Rooper) materialises to him, and him alone.



This is - as to be expected from any play by 'The Master' - a deliciously pithy entrée to a hilarious farce, as the ghostly (ghastly) brat-wife attempts firstly to drive her living replacement (who gradually through the story reveals herself to be as every bit as coldly manipulative as her invisible foe is impetuous) to utter distraction, then reveals her actual (more sinister) intentions to remove Charles from this mortal coil altogether, in order to brighten up her boredom in the "spectral plane".



As Elvira's behaviour - remember she is visible only to Charles - convinces first Ruth, then their splendidly 'uptight-British' friends 'Doctor Bradman' (played - and it took a while for the penny to drop who he was - by Simon Jones, more famous as 'Arthur Dent' in the original BBCTV Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy) and his wife (Serena Evans) that Charles is going mad; then the ill-fated Ruth realises that Elvira is in fact not a figment of his imagination after all, it's time for Madame Arcati to ride to the rescue.



Dame Angela's performance as the Madame is a tour-de-force of hysterically funny, offbeat eccentricity, and (needless to say, with an audience - including our gang - practically baying for her to appear) lights up the stage in every scene. Her dottiness as she hurls herself into a trance, dancing around the room and gesticulating wildly like some elderly Cyndi Lauper, her insistence on riding her bicycle everywhere even in a thunderstorm ("It's only eight miles!") and her implacable belief in the spirit world and its foibles (despite her apparent amazement when her incantations actually seem to do something) are both endearing and revealing of the fact that even at 88 years old, this is an actress who rises above so many others in her field. I'm not sure whether it was just because we were still in previews, but I sensed at certain points in the production when Miss Dee and others stumbled over their lines that even the cast may be fearful of playing against such a mistress of the stage and screen.

Nevertheless this production is triumphal, a superb revival of a superb story; and we enjoyed it as much for its own sake as for the presence of Angela Lansbury. The whole cast is ideally suited to the "drawing-room-farce-gone-bad" style for which Mr Coward is so lauded - particular mention must go to the "yokel" housemaid Edith (Patsy Ferran), whose comic miming helps the visual comedy of several scenes, and whose character proves in the end to be pivotal to the whole story - and the audience gave all of them, as well as our star, rousing applause.

All together, a most enjoyable and unforgettable (and quite probably unrepeatable, given that the octogenarian Miss Lansbury is not exactly a regular on the West End stage) experience!


"The Lansburys" on tour


Lansbury-mania

Here's the Dame herself talking about the show:



Blithe Spirit is on a strictly limited run with Dame Angela in the title role, and is booking at the Gielgud Theatre until 7th June 2014.

14 comments:

  1. I love Dame Angela, but she has never won an Oscar. Nominations, yes. Oscar, no. Just to keep the record straight. I've seen her live on stage a number of times, most memorably in SWEENEY TODD, and I've loved her in her very early films and, of course, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. I also love her supporting performance in DEAR HEART with Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page.
    Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

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    1. Picky, picky, picky - OK, I have changed the reference to Angela's Oscar to "nomination" rather than "won". Happy now? Jx

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  2. I love it when she does the "elderly Cyndi Lauper" bit ;) The woman is a legend, would have loved to see the play!

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    1. Ah well, sweetie - you'll need to come to London before it closes... Jx

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  3. A truly wonderful night and an unforgettable experience. Amazing to watch someone of her age in a part that required such energy. I'm in awe! Nice to have the "Lansburys" more or less all back together again too.

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    1. It was indeed a fabulous experience, wasn't it? Jx

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  4. I saw Dame Angela in the Broadway production of "Blithe Spirit" a few years ago, and she was, of course, beyond fabulous. We should all be so lucky to be so "spirited" at age 88.

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    1. Heavens! I can't imagine living that long, to be able to throw myself around a stage as Dame Angela did... Jx

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    1. It was - and we were so close (row B) that we could almost see her breakfast! Jx

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  6. Really pleased you all enjoyed it - coincidentally, Grumpy's sister went and saw it on the same night as you all - she loved it too.

    Did one of you take the picture at the stage door? x

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    1. It was excellent! And yes, our very own paparazzo Hils took the photo... Jx

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    2. It was a fabulous evening! A highlight of my London life. A fabulous performance from Dame Lansbury, and a joy to be with all the other glorious Angela's !!! ... Am seriously considering taking Joe back to see it

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    3. Russ? Is that you signed in as Joe? It was a fab outing, and don't forget - we are Angela Lansbury! Jx

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