The Ottawa Little Theatre`s 103rd season is off to a great start with a solidly entertaining production of Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit. Jim McNabb directs an excellent cast in Coward’s funniest and spookiest play brimming with masterful wordplay, wit and humour.
Blithe Spirit sees Charles, a newlywed novelist put on a dinner party and inviting the local medium to hold a séance, hoping to pick up some spiritualist jargon and tricks of the trade for his next book. In spite of the guests’ skepticism and mocking snickers, Madame Arcati delivers, accidentally conjuring up the spirit of Charles’ late wife Elvira who is set on taking back her husband . . . for good.
Much of the humour is the surface over substance, comedy of manners variety with heaps of witty dialogue. There’s plenty of physical humour in here too though so it’s funny for a wide audience.
The leads do a great job of the script’s high wire act wordplay with razor sharp timing and quick powerful jabs. Ian Stauffer’s Charles is a Hugh Grant-like character, charming yet bumbling, baffled and high strung. Opposite him Dianna Renee Yorke packs a lot of nippiness as Ruth, Charles’ very prim second wife who turns out to be just as cunning as the first. Interestingly, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson were friends of Noel Coward so it’s perhaps no surprise that there are striking resemblances to the weak-willed though pleasant Charles and Ruth with her exquisite taste and controlling tendencies.
Heather Archibald is oh so very creepy as the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira with her icy delivery and sly smiles. Even “passed over” it’s easy to see Elvira’s “talent for living,” “moral untidiness” and lack of “spiritual integrity.” Sarah Hearn steals the show as the exuberant village medium Madame Arcati and all around foil for Charles and company. Hearn plays the role with just the right balance of intensity and eccentricity with a touch of loopiness. Her lilting rhythmic diction is a neat way to set her apart from the other characters even if she at times speaks too fast. Though a smaller role Becky Mardell brings a nice touch of physical humour as Edith, the over eager, awkward maid.
The show’s technical side is strong too. Graham Price’s finely detailed art deco set earned applause opening night as the curtain rose. And that was before we got to see all the set’s special features in action for the haunting scenes. With ghosts involved there’s also a lot going on in Barry Sims’ lighting design which works seamlessly with the other elements. Kudos is also due to Peggy Laverty whose costumes speak volumes in introducing the characters from Charles’ debonair dress to Mdme. Arcati’s bright colours and heavy jewellery.
All in all Blithe Spirit is a fun night out on the silly side of the supernatural.
Blithe Spirit runs until October 3, 2015 at the Ottawa Little Theatre (400 King Edward Ave.) with a matinee on September 27. Tickets are available here.