Blithe Spirit

By Noel Coward

Theatre Royal Bath Summer Season

ALMOST 80 years after the premiere of this favourite Noel Coward comedy, his crisp and clever dialogue still has audiences howling with laughter.

The plot is preposterous and only Coward’s brilliantly created characters and the lines they deliver make it remotely plausible, not that plausibility matters one jot.

And of course, how the lines are delivered. Jennifer Saunders, who could give masterclasses in comedy, lived up to expectations as the incomparable scatty medium Madame Arcati, whose mystic meddling lands the household of author Charles Condomine in a ghostly quandary.

It is the pivotal role in the play and she flung herself joyously into its eccentricity, physically and vocally.

In the deceptively minor role of Edith, the trainee maid, Rose Wardlaw was another star. Gauche, naïve and apparently dim, she blunders her way to the core of the plot.

Geoffrey Streatfield was a strong and funny Charles, a man driven to despair by a surfeit of wives, alive and dead.

Lisa Dillon and Emma Naomi matched one another for gleefully waspish repartee as the two wives trapped between this world and the next.

In possibly the least rewarding roles of Dr and Mrs Bradman, Simon Coates and Lucy Robinson extracted the most from their scepticism.

The set, a galleried, book-filled, vaulted sitting room was magnificent. But I wondered if the height was contributory in absorbing some of the volume from the voices on stage.

Special effects, which culminate in a chaotic finale, are excellent.

For performance times, consult the theatre’s website or Summer Season schedule.

Jo Bayne