Stratford Festival 2013
A Comedy by Noel Coward
Directed by Brian Bedford
Running now through October 20
Information and Tickets at www.stratfordfestival.ca
Blithe Spirit – Congers Up big laughs!
Rating *** (3 out of four stars)
Reviewed by David Grapes – August 2013
While we did not get to savor Brian Bedford’s Shylock this season (Mr. Bedford was forced to withdraw for health reasons), he did leave us with a delightful and stylish Blithe Spirit.
With the assistance of an all star Canadian cast and anchored by the puckish Ben Carlson as Charles Condomine, Mr. Bedford has again managed (as he did with recent productions of Present Laughter and The Importance of Being Ernest) to dust off an old chestnut and give it a stylish, lively and fresh polish.
Blithe Spirit is without doubt the most improbable and enigmatic of all the comedies in the Coward cannon. The play looks easy and fun on paper but in point of fact, it is quite difficult to produce and challenging to perform. I am pleased to report that everything about this production works and works well. True to form Bedford has given Stratford’s audiences another stylish comedy. Simon Higlett’s set is stunning in its detail and architectural complexity, not to mention full of wonderful surprises in the finale of Act III. Not to be outdone, costume designer Katherine Luienski has created costumes that don’t just look stunning but serve Coward’s quintessentially quirky characters as well.
In addition to the always-dapper Mr. Carlson, who is really in his wheelhouse in this type of comedy, you also have two beautiful and talented actresses Sara Topham and Micelle Giroux adding to the comic mayhem. However, the real comic cherry on top of Bedford’s frothy Spirit is Seana McKenna as Madame Arcati, the matron of cosmic and comic ectoplasm. Rather than give us a traditional “medium in a turban” McKenna plays Arcati as a wildly eccentric sleuth aka Miss Marple. It is a bold and risky choice but pays off in spades and gives the show some of its best laughs of the evening.
As a play, Blithe Spirit may not be a full meal but it serves as a marvelous appetizer for the rest of Stratford meaty season. It is also family friendly and a great way to introduce younger audiences to the theatre. We wish Mr. Bedford a speedy recovery and hope to see another one of his little comic gems again soon.