23rd November 2017
Writtle Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Katherine Hempstead
The evening was cold, black and bitter, but the anticipation in the busy queue outside Writtle Village Hall for tickets for the evening’s performance of Blithe Spirit by Writtle Cards kept out the determined chill of the crisp night air. We were greeted with smiling faces in the bustling hall as regulars met friends and chatted over steaming tea in between friendly front of house staff keeping an eye on us all and focused lighting and sound crew. I spied some simple and effective silhouettes adorning the Village Hall walls with the actors names beneath, making use of the shared community space to make it their own for the forthcoming production run. Curtains in the opening scene were drawn back to reveal a detailed 1940’s middle class Kent sitting room, constructed by Steve Williams and Pete Harris, complete with well sourced trinkets and gramophone ( properties were overseen by Janet Williams,) which was later used convincingly well as the sound crackled and popped from within it. Tom Harris’s lighting design gave us a yellow glow emanating from the large lamp in the corner of the room and the window from the opposite side of the stage, giving the room a real cosy sitting room ambience, as Ruth Condomine played by Jean Speller gave ‘helpful’ tips with the slightest condescension of tone to the mildly hapless maid Edith, played by Louise Curley, who stumbled with the greatest of comedic timing and expression as she attempted to ‘slow down’ to fit the pace of the times.
Charles Condomine played by Nick Caton soon took control of the forthcoming events as he paced his living room in anticipation of the evening’s entertainment with the eccentric Madame Arcarti. Husband and wife had a wonderful rapport between them, which was necessary from the outset in this verbose production. I did find the double doors at the back of the stage left open quite distracting during the opening scene. I understand the necessity of the back of the stage needing to be seen for the visual gag of Maid Edith ‘rushing past’, but it was slightly off-putting from the current action on the stage. The first 10-15 minutes was slightly lacing in pace as the actors settled into the parts, with a few prompts taken and cues slow to be picked up, but pace was gathered again as their guests, Doctor George and Violet Bradman, played by Jerry Thomas and Katharine Thomas arrived. Costumes, overseen by Jan Irving, were sumptuous and worn with ease, with the chaps in their suits and bowties and ladies in their evening gowns. Nerves again were evident as a few more prompts were taken, but these were quickly picked up and pace gathered again with the grand entrance of Madame Arcarti, played by Daniel Curley. She breezed onto the stage in a gust of colour and quirkiness, not fussed of following the stuffy conventions of the era. Her gregarious nature was not so reciprocated by the gentlemen, particularly the sceptic Doctor Bradman, and quite simply unnerved his wife even before the séance began. The atmosphere quickly changed from the evenings light entertainment to a shiver down the spine with the child’s voice of ‘Little Tommy Tucker’ cutting through the gramophone music of ‘Always’, followed by a dramatic trance like state which had the audience giggling with Daniel Curley truly stealing the scene with his twitching and gurning to great effect. His character and delivery were confident, and mannerisms gave the impression of a strong and independent mature female no doubt.
The entrance of our ’blithe spirit’ Elvira played by Michele Moody through the misty green light of the open window was gentle and ethereal, and stopped Mr Condomine satisfyingly quick in his tracks. She was bathed in green aura throughout the production, which gave her an effective and constant sense that she was indeed separate from the living and the constant. Away went Mr Condomine’s belligerent arrogance, and in its place was a man who thought he was possibly losing his mind. Mrs Condomine’s distress at her husband’s seemingly distasteful comments towards her were nicely delivered, with the mood carried over to the next morning.
It was a little distracting to see the clothes and shoes beneath the dressing gowns at the breakfast table the next morning, and a few more prompts were taken, but there was a lovely divide between the frazzled and confused Mrs Condomine and confident and elegant Elvira, dressed in grey lace with matching pallor. She walked amongst the chaos of the domestic argument with grace and beauty, further highlighting the destruction she was causing to Mr Condomine’s simple existence. Her sultry and confident behaviour was quickly and effectively quashed when she realised her mistakes in tampering with Mr Condomine’s car.
Mention must be made of the wonderfully flamboyant exits of Madame Arcarti, with the swing of her handbag once earning its own round of applause. Scene changes were made to appropriate choices of music operated well by Lauren Vaughn. The final scene once the ghostly pair had been finally exorcized (or had they) with the haunted living room falling to pieces was a surprising and delightful finale.
Director Liz Curley has put together a capable team of cast and crew, who have put in huge efforts to make the most of this wonderful play. Visual comedy was abundant and well delivered, and the set, lighting and special effects worked well. I felt some pace drop due to lack of confidence in lines, and sadly a lot of prompts were taken for the opening night, but I hope for the following two performances the actors had more self-assurance and could relax into their respective roles and get the most out of the evening’s entertainment as we did.