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Blithe Spirit review at Pitlochry Festival Theatre – ‘an energetic revival’

Ali Watt, Claire Dargo and Barbara Hockaday in Blithe Spirit at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Photo: Douglas McBride
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In a white-walled luxury apartment, two well-to-do couples engage in a séance for a bit of diverting fun. Their invited host for the evening is Madame Arcati, a beaded bohemian who speaks in earnest jargon and takes her craft very seriously.

For Dr and Mrs Bradman (Harry Long and Tilly-Mae Millbrook), the evening is just an amusement. For host Ruth (Claire Dargo) and particularly her husband Charles (Ali Watt), however, things take an unexpectedly life-changing turn when the ghost of Charles’ vampish late wife Elvira (Barbara Hockaday) shows up, seen only by him and determined to resume her old life by supplanting Ruth in his affections.

Since it first opened on the West End in 1941, Noel Coward’s play has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of changing fashions over the decades. There’s another version playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath at the moment, with Jennifer Saunders in the role of Arcati. A fusion of drawing room black comedy and supernatural farce, it’s easy to see why, although a lot of the humour in the text feels overly genteel and dated in 2019.

Much of the joy of this revival is in what has been created around it, particularly Adrian Rees’ gorgeous set – which comes alive during the climactic possession scene – and stylish costumes, with every member of the undead clad in brilliant red.

Typically for Pitlochry, the ensemble work is also strong, and directed energetically in this case by Gemma Fairley. In particular, Deirdre Davis’ suitably madcap Arcati and David Rankine’s hapless, clowning manservant Eddie enliven every scene in which they appear.

Pitlochry artistic director Elizabeth Newman: ‘Open every window and door – let everyone in’

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An energetic revival of Noel Coward’s old-fashioned supernatural comedy