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Watermill - Blithe Spirit

21st May to 27th June 2009.

From Newbury Theatre.

For a play that Noël Coward wrote in five days, Blithe Spirit has done well to be going strong after 68 years. Charles Condomine and Ruth, his second wife, have invited their friends the Bradmans round for dinner with Madame Arcati, a local medium. After dinner, she arranges a séance and manages to bring back the ghost of Elvira, Charles’ first wife. The ensuing friction between Charles, Ruth and Elvira provides much of the humour in what is a very funny play.

This isn’t, and wasn’t intended to be, a deep play with a message; it’s just for fun, and its enduring appeal lies in Coward’s witty badinage. Charles (Hywel Morgan) and Ruth (Caitlin Mottram) at first seem to be a well-matched, contented couple, easing us into the play in the lovely 1940s drawing room setting. When Dr Bradman (Antony Gabriel) and Mrs Bradman (Joanne Redman) arrive, the martinis flow freely (but wouldn’t they have had olives in them? Maybe olives were hard to come by during the war). After Madame Arcati (Claire Vousden) has done her stuff and rematerialized Elvira (Kelly Williams), the action hots up.

Director Orla O’Loughlin sets a cracking pace for the play, and Hywel Morgan, Caitlin Mottram and Kelly Williams go at each other so fast that it’s hard to keep up.

Claire Vousden is a brisk, no-nonsense Madame Arcati; you could imagine her as an eccentric school mistress at a girls’ private school. Less flamboyant than many in this role, but by no means understated, she gave a refreshing twist to the part. I particularly liked the visual comedy of the trances.

Joanne Redman was delightful as the mousey Mrs Bradman. Edith, the maid, is written as a comic character, but Emily Wachter injected a lot more comedy into it. Dancing to the music was a surprising addition that worked very well, and helped to give a smooth segue to the scene changes.

Blithe Spirit provides a refreshing antidote to the current economic woes, and a happy way to spend a summer evening.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Coward masterpiece revived

The Watermill's spirited professionals show how it should be done

Blithe Spirit, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until June 27

Noel Coward's masterpiece carries the same guarantee of enjoyment as a well-mixed dry martini and there is much of the tinkling ice about the sharp, often wry, always gloriously entertaining dialogue.

The Condomines invite Madam Arcati, a medium, into their home so that Charles can pick up jargon for his latest book. Their friends, Dr and Mrs Bradman (Antony Gabriel and a splendidly edgy performance from Joanne Redman) are also there to take part in the table turning (literally), but neither they, nor Charles' wife, Ruth, can see the too successful result as Elvira, Charles' dead ex-wife, returns from the spirit world to cause hilarious havoc.

Could anyone match Margaret Rutherford's wonderful portrayal of the eccentric, cycling Madam Arcati who yearns for ectoplasm and goes into ecstasies on hearing she has conjured up the ghost of Elvira?

Yes they could. Claire Vousden, last seen at The Watermill in Black Comedy, bounded about the excellent set with high-spirited, hockey-stick enthusiasm. Collapsing into a trance, knocking back the drink or conducting the séance, she was terrific.

As the hapless Condomines, Charles (Hywel Morgan) and Ruth (Caitlin Mottram) made use of every action and word so excellently that the play zipped along keeping the audience on their toes so as not to miss the many gems in their dialogue.

Dressed magnificently ethereally in cobwebby, floating robe, the flighty, mischievous ghost Elvira (Kelly Williams) also has her share of unmissable lines. It is worth the ticket price alone to hear her speaking disdainfully to Charles of the non-delights of their honeymoon in Budleigh Salterton - where an orchestra was playing Merrie England they recalled - and of a past lover who treated her well - "he was in the cavalry you know."

Finally, there was the maid, Edith (Emily Wachter). Clever direction by Orla O'Loughlin extended this comparatively minor, though vital, part into sheer comedy which made her every appearance an absolute joy.

Too often turned into an overlong production by amateur societies, the professionals on and off stage at The Watermill showed how it should be done - and did it superbly.


There are reviews in What's On Stage ("sprightly, elegant revival... Claire Vousden is a wonderfully earnest delight"), Reviews Gate ("the actors ruthlessly ride over laughs as they keep things moving at all costs... all this energy and movement does not quite substitute for lightness of touch and good humour"), The Oxford Times ("the star is Emily Wachter, playing Edith the maid... brilliant").