Not-a-Review: Blithe Spirit, Gielgud Theatre

“I long ago came to the conclusion that nothing has ever been definitely proved about anything “

Less of a review (the show is still previewing) and more of a musing on ‘actor tourism’ which is surely the main reason for this umpteenth revival of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The announcement of Angela Lansbury’s return to the London stage after nearly forty years was met with a surprisingly huge outpouring of excitement which subsequently went into overdrive with her elevation to damehood in the New Year. And such veneration is curious to observe when one is on the outside of it.

I think I missed the memo about Lansbury. I mean I’m pretty sure I’ve been in the same room when Murder She Wrote has been on but it was never something I’ve been enthusiastic about and in my personal pantheon of leading ladies, I have to say she is a long way off national treasure status. And clearly this will be controversial as evidenced from the audience in the Gielgud though – her arrival onstage was applauded, her exits were whooped, her curtain call garnering a considerable standing ovation.

Was she worth it? It’s hard to say in all honesty. There’s something admirable in watching an 88 year old hoof it about on such a high profile stage and there’s a delightful twinkle in her eye that gets her a long way. But for me, her diction was terrible meaning I could barely understand her at times, her miked-up voice lacking clarity and the play is just pure hokum, an overextended riff on faux spirituality, wayward wives and general upper-class twonkery.

So the standing o felt hugely indulgent, a recognition of a lifetime’s work rather than what has just been witnessed, which I suppose is fair enough if you’re that way inclined but it feels a little beside the point. I adore Vanessa Redgrave but I wouldn’t have ovated at Much Ado… because I loved her in Coriolanus… And I remain too stolidly British to entertain applauding entrances and/or mid-scene exits, it just feels rude to interrupt the rhythm of a production in such a way – a time and a place has been provided for you to show your appreciation! 

So yeah, feeling kinda grumpy about this one. It’s not helped by the fact that I am over Coward’s work at the moment – constant uninspired revivals keep sucking me in with ace casts but never manage to do anything new or particularly interesting with his plays, it all just feels so repetitive. And for all my railing against ‘actor tourism’ (I don’t think I’m going to make this phrase happen, hehe), ultimately I am as guilty as the next man as the cast is the only reason I booked (although more for Dee, Edwards and Rooper if truth be told).

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 7th June

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