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A Spirited Performance at the Priory

Blithe Spirit, Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, from Friday10 February – Saturday 18 February 2023

Review by Ashley Hayward

The cast at the Priory certainly do justice to one of Noel Coward’s most enduring and frequently performed comedies and they seem to delight in delivering its clever and witty dialogue.

For those unfamiliar with the plot it concerns a novelist, Charles Condomime, who is researching the occult for a future book and hires a medium, Madame Arcati. A post-dinner séance subsequently brings back the ghost of his first wife Elvira who tries to cause havoc for his second wife Ruth!

Adam Schumacher convincingly plays Charles and conveys him as sophisticated and debonair but also at the mercy of his two wives as he tries to cope with their battle for his affections. He also successfully manages the tricky feat of acting opposite someone who no one else is supposedly able to see!

Laura Schumacher portrays the mischievous Elvira as seductive, spirited and carefree as she gleefully informs us that she has played backgammon with Genghis Khan and has found Joan of Arc to be quite good fun.

Charles’ second wife Ruth initially appears, confident, quick witted and sophisticated and is played excellently by Esther Taylor who starts to think her husband is losing his mind and then becomes increasingly angry and frustrated by the whole situation.

Anita Dalton stars as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati who makes an impressive entrance following her cycle to the Condomime residence. Much to Charles’ surprise she turns out not to be a fraud although she does have great difficulty in returning Elvira to the other side!

The main cast are well supported by the sceptical dinner guests Dr and Mrs Bradman (Stuart Lawson and Ruth Jones) and by the eager-to-please and speedy maid Edith nicely played by Laura Tombs.

The set looks very authentic with all the action taking place in the living room of the fashionable Condomimes’ home. There are some really impressive supernatural effects and very professional standards of lighting, sound and wardrobe.

Coward once described the play as an ‘improbable farce in three acts’ and indeed it is. However as with all of his work there is something recognisable and familiar about all of his characters and the relationships between them. As the plot unravelled, I admit I was not really sure whose side I was on and where my sympathies should lie!

The play was first performed over 80 years ago and I’m sure theatre groups will still be performing it and audiences will still be enjoying it eighty years from now.

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