Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit – what a wonderful farce

Madame Arcati (Kate Lester) tries to rid the Condomine home of its two ghosts.
Madame Arcati (Kate Lester) tries to rid the Condomine home of its two ghosts.

When the witty dialogue of Noel Coward is fully appreciated by an experienced cast the audience can just sit back and enjoy.

And that’s just what we did, watching Duns Players perform Coward’s ‘improbable farce’ Blithe Spirit at the Volunteer Hall, Duns, last week.

A dinner party seance as unexpected consequences in Noel Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit

A dinner party seance as unexpected consequences in Noel Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit

Set “some time in the 1960s” the 1941 comedy is based in the home of writer Charles Condomine (John McEwen) and his second wife Ruth (Genny Dixon). Charles invited over-the-top medium Madame Arcati (Kate Lester) to a dinner party with neighbours Dr Bradman (Jerry Ponder) and his wife (Emma McDevitt) to perform a seance to try and pick up a few useful tips for his new novel.

So far so good.

Well until Madame Arcati surprised even herself by somehow conjuring up the ghost of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Christine Sclater). And that’s when things started to spiral out of control and we entered the chaotic world of spirits crashing into the ordered upper middle class world of the Condomines.

Kate Lester’s hilarious performance as Madame Arcati could only be described as uninhibited and she knew just how far to take the outrageous character.

Conjuring up the ghosts proved easier than getting rid of them.

Conjuring up the ghosts proved easier than getting rid of them.

Elvira floated into the Condomine living room but only Charles could see and hear her. It led to hilarious crossed wires between Charles and his second wife Ruth, as Charles argued with and hurled insults at Elvira, Ruth mistakenly thinking his angry words were directed at her, as she was the only other person in the room. Or so she thought.

A brilliant script and superb timing between those on stage – John, Genny and Christine – was a masterclass in farce. And when Elvira accidentally killed Ruth (she meant to kill Charles so he could join her in the spirit world for ever) and Charles ended up being haunted by two dead wives – well you can only imagine the chaos.

Flitting around in the background was the maid Edith – who turned out to have a stronger role in the whole carry on as well as a stronger link to the spirit world than Madame Arcati – and it turned out that she was able to see Elvira and the ghost of Ruth.

Great dialogue is a treat for any actor to deliver but it only works if direction is tight and the roles are well cast. Duns Players did not disappoint and the small but experienced cast definitely has a hit on their hands.

Over 75 years old Blithe Spirit was written in an era when people were in less of a rush than we are nowadays. The audience got their money’s worth when they went for an evening at the theatre, as the play is almost three hours long, and to be true to the script there could be no cutting of Coward’s words by Duns Players.

If any fault could be found about last week’s performance it was that a more comfortable seat would have been appreciated. But it’s a small complaint – it was all about the play and the performance and they were both on point and well deserved the applause for a very polished, professional performance by those both on stage and behind the scenes.