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Sunday, 13 December 2009

Theatre – Blithe Sprit – Royal Exchange

Star rating – 8/10

This year’s festive offering from the Royal Exchange is a real delight. The reworking of this hilarious Noel Coward romp will bring cheer and hilarity to those already feeling stressed by the season.

Suranne Jones sparkles and shines in her Royal Exchange debut. She proves her worth as a talented actor – with not a trace of the famous Manc attitude of Karen McDonald, so beloved by ardent Corrie fans like myself. And her elegant costumes are to die for. The play is set in the home of the dapper and suave author Charles Condomine (more about this later) , and his second wife Ruth. The first Mrs Condomine, Elvira, having died some seven years previously of a heart attack whilst recovering from a bout of pneumonia, and being unable to stop laughing at a BBC entertainment show on the radio. You have been warned – laughter can be dangerous. But not in this play.

Elvira’s spirit is conjured up during a séance being held by the true star of the show Madame Arcati. Annette Badland is simply wonderful in this hilarious role. She struts around the stage variously going into trances, and eating as many sandwiches as she possibly can, conjuring up images of Margaret Rutherford in English classic movies. Badland is a superb actress, and will be familiar to many from her TV roles including parts in Dr Who and Bergerac. She has the audience eating out of her hand – nearly literally at one point when a sandwich that she carelessly discarded accidentally hit one of the audience. The whole theatre erupted in spontaneous laughter, as did the cast, it has to be said. And when the sandwich was promptly thrown back she ad libbed brilliantly to add to the fun. But I think this extra frisson was a one night only addition…

The tale unfolds as Ruth is horrified by the sudden appearance of her deceased rival, and accuses her husband of being some sort of ‘astral bigamist’. And the only weak link it has to be said is unfortunately Milo Twomey, who plays the haunted Charles Condomine. He fluffed more lines than I have ever seen at the Royal Exchange – even though this was a preview showing I certainly do expect better. And he shouted his way through the performance, rather than being suave and debonair as the part demands.

That gripe aired then, the rest of the production is stunning and fun filled. And mention must be made of the wonderful set design and special effects, which add to the hilarity.

Bravo then to (almost) all and a very Merry Christmas!

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