Blithe Spirit

An improbable farce that's a delight to watch.

10th -13th April 2024
Ballard School

story by:

Noël Coward

directed by:

Claire Nicholson

What's it about?

Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward, described by the author as “an improbable farce in three acts”. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his wilful and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.

There is a gallery further down the page with 12 photos of the show. To see the complete set of photos please click here:

Many thanks to Paul and Sue Berkeley AFIAP, ARPS, CPAGB for all the wonderful photos

The Cast & Crew

Charles Condomine – Paul Berry
Ruth Condomine – Louise Kenyon
Elvira Condomine – Victoria Sandford
Madame Arcati – Rachel Mackay
Dr Bradman – Neil Phillips
Mrs Bradman – Tina Ward
Edith – Bee Neal

Stage Manager – Clare Collins
Lighting & Sound – Simon Hanney
Prompt – Sue Nicholson
Set Design – David Ward
Props – Colin Bailey
Costumes – Vacancy
Front of House – Wendy Beaumont

Review of the Show

First staged to popular acclaim on London’s West End in 1941 and New York’s Broadway later that year, Noël Coward’s ghostly comedy Blithe Spirit has been continuously ‘revived’ since then, and this first-rate production by the New Forest Players well illustrates why it has an enduring appeal and simply will not be laid to rest!

Many people will have seen the notable 1945 film version, (which is regularly aired on afternoon TV), and the memorable performance by the indomitable Margaret Rutherford in the role of medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati; but for those that haven’t seen it before in film or on stage, here’s a taster of the farcical plot…

Louche socialite Charles Condomine invites the medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati to conduct a séance in his home hoping to gather background material for a novel he is writing. Other people present include his second wife, Ruth, and mocking sceptics Dr Bradman and Mrs Bradman, plus Edith the new Maid. Havoc breaks loose after the séance when the blithe spirit of his feckless and spoilt first wife, Elvira, appears. Elvira is determined to sabotage Charles’ and Ruth’s marriage and to reunite with Charles in the spirit world by killing him off. Charles is well aware of Elvira’s presence, but not her intentions, and none of the others, bar unassuming Edith, can see or hear her. Elvira’s mischievous antics unintentionally result in the demise of Ruth, whom Madam Acarti then brings back as a ghost to playfully haunt the remaining proceedings with her now co-conspirator Elvira.

Definitely a farcical story, but it is one that has a high degree of sophistication, as to be expected of a Noël Coward script. It is witty from start to finish, with moments of genuine hilarity and surprises before the end, all carried along by a cast of very good players. The audience clearly savored every moment!

Of the three supporting roles, the ever reliable and versatile Tina Ward plays snooty Mrs Bradman with great comedic mannerisms and faultless timing. She is accompanied by Neil Phillips, who delivers a solid performance as down to earth Dr Bradman. Edith the Maid is played by Bee Neal, whose understated performance may well have stolen the show – her face was transfixed with a look of complete surprise and bewilderment as she moved around the margins of the stage with exaggerated awkwardness, and an expectation that she would drop her serving tray or fall over at any moment. Oh, and Edith is not all that she appears to be, as is revealed towards the end of the play.

Three of the four principal roles are played by newcomers to the New Forest Players family, but it is immediately clear that they are all experienced and accomplished actors. Paul Berry plays Charles Condomine with such ease and flawless fit that he appears to be born for the part. The character has a sinister side, but Paul Berry somehow makes him likeable. Louise Kenyon as Ruth Condomine is excellent, at no time flustered by a lost line, and appears to be perfectly suited to the part. Her enunciation of her lines is redolent of 1940s’ upper-class society. Rachel Mackay brings a fantastic physicality to the part of Madame Arcati. She is a tour de force in the role – great acting and extremely funny. New Forest Players stalwart, Victoria Sandford, appears alluring and ethereal as she floats around the stage in a gossamer gown as Elvira. She too is excellent.

According to the programme notes the costumes were made by the Blithe Spirit Cast, which is remarkable as they are absolutely right for the period and are top quality – right down to the red stockings worn by Madame Arcati. There are a number of clever touches too, with the ghostly apparitions of Elvira and Ruth being entirely decked out in tones of grey. The play is performed in an elegant drawing room setting with elements of contemporary art deco styling, which employs a number of clever mechanical devices that add to the fun and mayhem. They literally ‘bring the house down’ in the final scene! The sound effects are synchronised with all of the action and every word uttered on the stage is audible. The Production Team have truly excelled themselves.

The New Forest Players and Director, Claire Nicholson, can chalk up another success to their names. They certainly continue to delight their audiences with varied and top-drawer amateur theatre. This production of Blithe Spirit runs until 13 April, and there’s still a chance to catch it before it vanishes into the ether!

Philip & Julie McStraw
Scene One+