RICHARD Eyre got lots of stick from fans of The Master when his long and triumphant tenure at the National Theatre did not include one Coward work.
Now he’s making up for lost time in Bath, with a terrific production of the 1941 Blithe Spirit, that satire on the then-current fad for spiritualism and the occult. You might think you know the play, from countless starry productions and films, but Eyre has managed to find a sparky new way into the familiar story.
His star is Jennifer Saunders, and her interpretation of Madame Arcati is a revelation. Gone is the usual theatrical posing, replaced by a wonderfully scatty, gleeful woman in a skirt made of a travelling rug, petticoat just inches too long, who dons her finery only for trances and seances.
The action is set in the living room-cum-library of a converted abbey in Kent, cleverly designed by Anthony Ward to accomodate the supernaturally animated requirements.
It all looks as though Charles Condomine and his second wife Ruth, are blissfully happy, rattling around with new housemaid Edith (the delightful Rose Wardlaw).
Charles wants background for his new book, and invites the crustly local doctor and his wife to dinner, along with the village medium, Madame Arcati. The old girl is put through her paces, but before long it’s clear that there’s something lurking behind the opulent curtains.
It’s huge fun, and beautifully done, and Jennifer Saunders shows an unexpected self deprecation in this beautifully observed performance.
Lisa Dillon is all brittle niceness as Ruth with Emma Naomi a supremely mischievous Elvira, both vying for the attention of Geoffrey Streatfeild’s duplicitous Charles
Blithe Spirit is on at Bath until 6th July.
Photograps by Nobby Clark