Audiences should ensure they are stocked up on cucumbers and gin before setting off to watch the BGT production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at Abbaye de Neumünster this week. The cast consumes copious amounts of cucumber sandwiches and “very dry” Martinis on stage and audiences will return home after the show craving one or both.
They will also return hungry for more shows by BGT, although probably over-stuffed with Coward’s delicious but at times laboriously slow-cooked play. The ingredients are all perfect, the preparation exquisite and the taste divine…yet somehow one feels that there is simply too much on the plate. Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in just five days in Wales while taking a break from London during the height of the Blitz in 1941. It is a pity that a work produced with apparent haste should produce some banal dialogue about contemporaneous village life that does little to drive the plot or develop character. It could have been cut here by a good 10-15 minutes.
When the play does shine, it is a sparkling feast packed with witty repartee among its tightly-knit cast under the expert direction of Tony Kingston. The story revolves around the arrogant writer Charles Condomine, who becomes haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira, following a séance he and his current wife Ruth had arranged with the village spiritualist Madame Arcati. Both are sceptical and Charles only wants to hold the session, to which their friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman are also invited, for research purposes for his next book.
The ghost of Elvira is only visible and audible to Charles (and to the audience, of course), and is thus the source of much of the play’s physical comedy, as Ruth and the Bradmans suppose that the writer is going insane. But the play is about much more than spiritualism. It questions the very nature of romantic commitment as Charles and Ruth, then Charles and Elvira, argue--at times with delicious wickedness--about their relationship, jealousies and the battle of the sexes in general.
The ensemble cast does a splendid job, although on rare occasions they were barely audible. June Lowery is the stand out as the increasingly frustrated Ruth. She enters exuding a naturally intelligent charm, but becomes more and more vicious as the play progresses and she feels threatened by the presence of Elvira.
Bjorn Clasen plays Charles with the correct air of haughtiness and smug satisfaction--at one stage he is even proud to be called an "astral bigamist"--while Barbara Hall as Madame Arcati delicately balances her characters’ eccentricities and village school teacher earthiness. Lindsay Wegleitner lends the grey ghost of Elvira a good degree of sexual coquettishness and genuine beastliness as she tries to seduce Charles and steer him away from Ruth.
Fine support is lent by Patrick Schomaker and Jessica Whitely as the Bradmans and Clea du Toit is genuinely funny as the clumsy and shy maid Edith.
Credit must also go to the set designer Karl Pierce and to Deborah Cocking for the ladies' costumes. The lighting and special effects are also worth noting.
Blithe Spirit runs until May 18 at the Abbaye de Neumünster, starting at 8 p.m. each evening. Tickets can be booked on the Abbaye's website.