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Blithe Spirit

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four Stars

More than one ghost needs purging in Pitlochry Festival Theatre's revival of Noel Coward's brittle satire of the spirit world. Gemma Fairlie's production updates Coward's cut-glass society of poshos at play to today, as parasitic writer Charles and his prim second wife Ruth decide to host a séance overseen by village eccentric Madame Arcati with their equally well-heeled chums.

The idea is to mine her for material while slumming it with the common people as if Arcati’s mediumship is a parlour game for cheap thrills. When things go wrong, however, and Madame Arcati inadvertently conjures up the scarlet-clad spirit of Charles' drop-dead first wife Elvira, chaos ensues beyond the bantz that will have life - and death - changing consequences for all.

It's a bold angle Fairlie has gone for against the pristine plushness of Adrian Rees' luxury apartment set. With a mobile phone brought out here, and a Uri Geller reference there, most of it pays dividends. As Madame Arcati, Deirdre Davis is a wild-haired hippy hangover, who is first mocked, then indulged then finally taken seriously by those dabbling with things they'll never understand.

Ali Watt’s Charles is the sort of philandering brat who's looks like he might well throw his hat in the ring to lead the Tory party. As his wives, Claire Dargo's Ruth and Barbara Hockaday's Elvira are two sides of the same trust fund sourced coin, sparring for Charles' attention like debutantes stalking a prince. Coward's scene-stealing servant Edith is reimagined as Eddie, a nice but dim hunk of uselessness played by David Rankine, who skips around to sound designer Paul Falconer's play-list of spooky cult classics with the sort of blank-faced abandon and limited intellectual assets that suggests he'll go far.

Only the overly formal politesse of exchanges involving double-dating couple Dr and Mrs Bradman don't quite make it to the modern world, despite a game effort by Harry Long and Tilly-Mae Millbrook at making the most of their underwritten roles. While it never quite goes for the jugular, death becomes everyone onstage in a class-conscious take on Coward that breaks on through to the other side.

The Herald, June 28th 2019



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