It's weird to think that until last month I had never sat down and watched a play at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and here I am ready to watch my third with my tickets already booked for a fourth next week. This week I have eschewed another music review to watch a nearly 80-year-old play by flamboyant wit, raconteur and esteemed playwright, Noel Coward.
I have to admit, until very recently (literally seconds ago) I had Noel Coward somewhat confused with Ivor Novello. I've seen 'Brief Encounter' and knew Coward wrote that and was vaguely aware that he was the playwright behind 'Blithe Spirit'. Somehow though, he had become conflated in my mind with the songwriter and actor who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Lodger', forming one super-talented old-timey entity that I like to call Ivorn Cowello. But, I digress.
It's interesting to see that the Pitlochry Festival Theatre has brought back the curtain for this performance, so I am half expecting the set to be a 1940s inspired affair. However, when the curtain rises we are greeted by a white, modern aesthetic that puts me in mind of Stanley Kubrik's '2001: A Space Odyssey'.
It has a scrupulously clean, high-end Ikea sheen coupled with primary colour modular lighting. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense; it's exactly the sort of decor the comfortably off and slightly pretentious couple at the centre of 'Blithe Spirit' would find themselves at home in.
David Rankine, fresh from his leading role in 'Summer Holiday', gets to goof off as the Tim Henman-esque, bumbling butler in training, Eddie. With his exaggerated movements, long-limbed dancing and at times cartoonish costumes, he reminds me of one of the characters from 'The Sims' computer game.
Also from Summer Holiday is Tilly-Mae Millbrook as Mrs Bradman, who constantly seems to find herself the butt of criticism from the psychic Madame Acati to her husband Dr Bradman, ably played by Harry Long. Millbrook and Long both featured heavily in 'The Crucible' but here their roles are slightly more peripheral.
Deirdre Davis as Madame Arcati, like Eddie, wrings a lot of laughs out of Coward's script. She plays the psychic as a cycling crazed eco-warrior that looks like she does her clothes shopping at Shamanic, plus her pre-trance dance ritual has to be seen to be believed.
She plays the psychic as a cycling crazed eco-warrior that looks like she does her clothes shopping at Shamanic, plus her pre-trance dance ritual has to be seen to be believed.There is a real love/hate triangle at the centre of 'Blithe Spirit' made up of a married couple, Ruth and Charles, plus the ghost of Charles' former wife, Elvira. Barbara Hockaday plays the sultry, spoiled and seductive Elvira to perfection. She glides around the stage in a devil-red dress beguiling the hapless Charles who is like a rabbit in her headlights.
It is Claire Dargo, as fast-talking wife number two, Ruth, that makes the most of her role. She plays the most uptight character in the play and delivers much of her fast-paced dialogue in a slightly clipped and hurried manner. Her performance seems to hark back to classic Howard Hawks female leads like Katharine Hepburn in 'Bringing Up Baby' or Rosalind Russell in 'His Girl Friday', yet somehow manages not to seem anachronistic in a play set in the present day.
Dargo is completely unrecognisable from her role as Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible'. I mean that literally. Despite being really impressed with her performance in Miller's play, I didn't even realise she was in 'Blithe Spirit' until I looked at the programme at half time. It's a total transformation.
The meat in the sandwich between his current wife and the ghostly Elvira is Ali Watt as Charles. Ali's character is really to blame for this whole mess, it was his idea to stage a seance as research for a novel he's writing, and it was his unresolved feelings for Elvira that seemingly conjured her up. Like Dargo, he displays great vocal dexterity, carrying on two conversations concurrently, one with the dead and one with the living.
It's been a thoroughly thrilling night of spooktacular comedy and I give it four ouija boards out of five. I toyed with the idea of discussing the end of the play in detail but decided against it. Although the play has been around for nearly eight decades I have managed to reach the ripe old age of 41 without anyone giving away its ending, so I figure that there are probably plenty of other people in a similar position.
What I will say, is that as the ghostly goings-on are cranked up director Gemma Fairlie handles the plot developments with confidence, maintaining a Hitchcockian tone throughout. There are even some effective jump scares and slightly gruesome special effects that are definitely more 'Halloween' than 'Rent-a-Ghost'. It's been a thoroughly thrilling night of spooktacular comedy and I give it four ouija boards out of five.
Perth Festival of the Arts has joined forces with its 2020 artists to create a 10-day online celebration to ‘celebrate the arts together'.
May 21st Thursday 2020
Dougie Maclean's new Perthshire festival this summer: Cardney Concerts.
March 18th Wednesday 2020
Party at The Park, the South Inch, 27th and 28th June, will feature fantastic live performances from The Charlatans and many more!
March 12th Thursday 2020