The Tower Theatre Company again displays comedic excellence as they lift Noël Coward’s witty and well-timed words from the page ferociously and successfully in their latest performance Blithe Spirit.
The history of the play has a legacy being well-acted and this version did far from disappoint.
The show begins with writer Charles Condomine (David Hankinson), who is so eager to gather new material for his latest book he invites the self-proclaimed psychic Madame Arcati (Alison Liney) to perform a séance in his home, alongside wife Ruth (Anna Fiorentini) and their dinner guests. Infamously, when Madame Arcati accidentally summons the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Sophie King), the Condomine household and its domesticity becomes threatened with torment, trial and tragedy – all under a farcical veil.
The history of the play has a legacy being well-acted and this version did far from disappoint. Hankinson and Fiorentini have a fascinating dynamic with impeccable comedic timing and stichomythic line delivery making them captivating to watch. Throw Sophie King as Elvira into the mix and it is like watching a three-way tennis match of dialogue, except who you want to win changes with each passing moment. When the audience weren’t focused on the hilarity of the Condomine trio, there was an abundance of humour to be found in Myriam Laurent’s characterisation of maid Edith, her humourous exaggerated movements and facial expressions being hard to look away from. Likewise, Doctor and Mrs. Bradman (Alistair Maydon and Lousia Shindle) were also incredibly comical, each having different measures of matter-of-fact delivery and old-fashioned wit that was hard not to smile at.
Ultimately, Alison Liney was naturally the centrepiece of the show, brilliantly vocalising the unique language of Madame Arcati. Her performance was spellbinding and she moves about the stage deliberately, yet effortlessly at the same time. Liney has a plethora of experience in amateur drama and this certainly showed, the audience never tiring of her vibrancy in playing such an eccentric character. She, along with her other female co-stars, highlighted the 1940s trend of poking fun at psychic mediums, but also drawing attention to dominant women in the face of tragedy.
Within the play, itself the set is integral to the plot and this was handled very effectively and thoughtfully by set designer Jude Chalk. The set, with its numerous props, was incredibly detailed meaning that the audience was constantly looking in different corners so that nothing is missed. Yet, at the same time, nothing was overdone and the setting complimented the intricacy of the staging direction.
Likewise, the lighting (designed by Stephen Ley) and SFX were also not overdone and reimagined for a modern audience. For instance, the use of the haze machine and other clever effects were saved for only the most climactic scenes, leaving the sole focus on the characters and their vocal work. This proved to be way more effect, in a Woman in Black kind of way, making for an immersive viewing experience. Sound, too, was used for a chilling effect. Designer Tamara Douglas-Morris enlists the main sound source as the gramophone, these tracks effectively conjuring the 1940s-time period and therefore maintaining the authentic feel of the play.
It is easy to imagine this play as silly escapism, but The Tower Theatre Company reminds audiences that it is more than that. Director Dan Usztan provides specific direction so that no set or stage space is wasted by each actor, making the dynamic of the piece equal measures comedic and thrilling.