Blithe Spirit

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

09/12/2011 - 17/12/2011

Production Details

“A ghostly comedy…” 

Our final production for this year will be Noel Coward’s comedy, Blithe Spirit, the play he wrote in the 1940s, in wartime Britain. At a time when real life was dark and bleak, Blithe Spirit wickedly satirised conventional notions of love and death.

Charles, a writer, needs some background information about spiritualism for a book he is writing so he invites a medium into his country home to assist him. Unfortunately, her ‘powers’ summon up the ghost of his dead first wife who then proceeds to create confusion and mayhem for both Charles and his second wife.

The ensuing drama is typical Coward, full of wit, sophistication – and farce.

Globe Theatre, Dunedin
Thursday 8th – Saturday 17th December 2011
7.30pm start all performances except Sunday  (2pm)

(No performance Monday December 12)
Opening Night Special Price: All Seats $10.00
All other performances: Globe members $10.00;
Concession  (including groups of five or more) $15.00
General public $20.00
Phone 477 3274 or
or Globe Theatre door sales (no Eftpos) 

Edith:  Ellie Swann 
Ruth:  Kimberley Buchan 
Charles:  Dylan Shield 
Doctor Bradman:  Bernie Crayston 
Mrs Bradman:  Laura Wells 
Madame Arcati:  Terry MacTavish 
Elvira:  Elsa May  

Coward’s favourite well presented

Review by Barbara Frame 11th Dec 2011

Blithe Spirit has been a favourite since the 1940s, and Brian Beresford’s production of Noël Coward’s chilly comedy of supernatural contact gone wrong makes it easy to see why it’s so popular.

A strong cast of Globe regulars keeps the play sparkling and fresh. Dylan Shield is a great success as Charles Condomine, the author who thinks asking a local medium in for an evening’s psychic dabbling will provide good raw material for his next novel. Kimberley Buchan is all tense indignation as his unimpressed wife Ruth.

Bernie Crayston and Laura Wells are highly competent as Dr and Mrs Bradman, initially invited to enjoy the novelty and later required for other reasons, and Ellie Swann provides a very funny stop-go performance as Edith, the desperate-to-please maid. 

The really colourful, memorable parts in this play are those of the flamboyant but cliché-dependent Madame Arcati, played with evident relish by Terry MacTavish, and the “morally untidy” and deceased Elvira, gleefully presented by Elsa May, who wafts, mimics and teases with impish charm. 

This is a play of elegance: French windows, martinis and cigarette cases, and the set, designed by Brian Beresford and constructed by Don Knewstubb. reflects this well. A few details, though, could be improved – for example, the stage itself appears dusty, and the books in the bookcase are improbably shabby. 

Sofie Welvaert has done an excellent job with the costumes, especially Madame Arcati’s floaty purple and green creations and Elvira’s ghostly grey outfit.

The audience reception was very positive at Thursday night’s opening, and the theatre completely full, so bookings may be advisable. The production will run until December 17.


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Disciplined ensemble excellence aloows lightness and merriment to thrive

Review by Helen Watson White 10th Dec 2011

“You’d be surprised how gullible people are,” says Noel Coward’s “blithe spirit”, “We often laugh about it on the other side.” It’s good they can laugh, actually, because — as his Madama Arcati remarks — “We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one.”

In  Blithe Spirit  Coward completely begs the question of whether there is an afterlife at all: that is part of its charm — and part of our gullibility. The arch, sideswiping humour of  Private Lives (“Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs”) is evident here too, in Madame Arcati’s disdain for “unreliable” Indians and Dr Bradman’s dismissive put-downs of his wife. Imagine a play where an Indian personage disdains their lazy English servants, or a poor benighted woman suffers the petty jealousy of her late first husband towards husband no.2. If the racism and sexism seem so slight, so gratuitous, that’s a sure sign they are thoroughly ingrained.

I’m wrong, of course, to get heavy with Coward, who’s only doing his job — which is lightness and merriment. (“Blithe” simply means merry, though in my mind it’s somehow got mixed up with “blithering”, which means senselessly talkative…)

This is a very funny play, and Beresford’s direction makes themost of every line.  Terry MacTavish, as the peacock-feathered medium Madame Arcati, makes the most of everything else besides the line: the tone, the undertone, the tempo, the potential for movement underlining the silliness, the fun of the whole thing.  Eyes, fingers and limbs are all over the place — but intentionally.  It’s the same with Elsa May as the faintly greenish-white ghost Elvira, who as well as teasing, taunting and haranguing the lover who (she says) has caused her re-eruption on the earthly scene, does a wonderfully physical line in mockery through mime.

By contrast, twice-married Charles (Dylan Shield) has to retain a certain stolidity as the man-in-the-middle. Exasperation and ambivalence aside (and Shield does well in both modes), he responds as seriously as he can to a situation that would try the patience of anyone who didn’t know they were at the centre of a comedy.

The ability of the actors to hide this knowingness is crucial to any comic play. Kimberley Buchan as Charles’s current wife Ruth, keeps an impressive dignity, even when she’s accidentally killed off and returns as a ghost, hollow-eyed. Laura Wells as Mrs Bradman does better at that dignified ignorance than the ebullient Bernie Crayston as her doctor husband; Ellie Swann as the maid Edith is commendably intent — both as actor and as character — on doing what she’s told.

All together, this is one of the best ensembles I’ve seen working the Globe stage.  As well, a band of set designers, stage and lighting assistants, make important objects come alive, as if some quite disciplined poltergeists had taken it upon themselves to re-arrange reality.

How strange to conclude that in such a light, throwaway genre — the play first enacted in 1941, as an antidote to war — discipline’s the thing. But it is. If May (Elvira) or MacTavish (Mme Arcati) had gone even an inch too far over the top, the whole enterprise would have collapsed in a heap.

Indulgence is the enemy; it gives the audience indigestion. As it is, I think we all (the full house on the play’s first night) went away feeling blithe.


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