Saturday, April 05, 2014

Jane Dee (and Angela Lansbury!) in Blithe Spirit

 On Thursday we went to see our lovely friend Janie Dee in Blithe Spirit at the Gieldgud Theatre. The truly wonderful cast is headed by Dame Angela Lansbury who is 88. Normally I don't really approve of people being applauded when they walk on stage but in her case it was fully justified.

Angela's fans (she's just got into the car)
Taken from Janies Dressing Room
The role of Madame Arcati was written for Margaret Rutherford who created it in 1941 when she had just turned 49. Blithe Spirit ran for just under 2,000 performances and was the longest-running play in London theatre history until The Mousetrap overtook it.

It's a delightful comedy based on a beautifully simple main idea and the clichéd phrase "with hilarious consequences" seldom has rung truer than through Coward's sparkling script.  But like all great comedies there is an undertone of deep seriousness. It's not just that the humor depends on one principal character having died, who then murders the second while trying to murder the third- and on the desperate need that many people have to contact their loved ones who have died- this is written BTW in 1940/41 and opened in June 1941 just after the end of the Blitz (which is presumably why it opened in Manchester and didn't move down to London until July. It also explores very sharply themes of jealousy and mistrust. In this production, unlike many others, you actually care about the second wife (Ruth) who is clearly placed in a very difficult position.  Janie did this wonderfully and it was why people who had seen both told us afterwards that this production was even better than the one in NY.
Janie with Angela
Charles Edwards was super as Charles Condomine the jaded novelist - we'd last seen him as Oberon to Judi Dench's Titania. Jemima Rooper was fine as Elvira - an obviously fun part - and Patsy Ferran, straight out of RADA, was excellent as the Maid - who turns out of course to be a more important character than might have been supposed, in a delightful plot twist.

But of course the night belonged to Dame Angela. She really inhabited the role and it's somewhat tragic in that she's basically a very un-successful medium who has only had one major success which was due in part to someone else in the house. She can't see the spirits that she summons, and ekes out a living writing children's books and biographies of minor royals. She is clearly sincere and delightfully down-to-earth but rather a complex character and Dame Angela really brought out the depths - I'd love to see the film Coward directed and compare the Margaret Rutherford performance but I suspect Dame A's would be better. And it was very physical - especially with the whimsical walking/dancing when she goes into a trance - which naturally the audience loved.

Afterwards we went backstage to see Janie where we joined the delightful Greta Scacchi and her mother. She had last Oct been awarded Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito by the Italian Government for services to the Arts. All of Janies friends that we've met have been delightful and she is no exception. Charles Edwards joined us for some Champagne and we stayed chatting until the long-suffering stage door manager closed the house. Sadly we didn't get to meet Dame Angela because she had a massive posse of relatives (12 I think) visiting her. But the crowd waiting for her at the stage door was a thing to behold!

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