Review: Theatre Group's 'Blithe Spirit'

This year, TG’s summer slot play was Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Unfortunately, the first thought that came into my mind was that it was nowhere near the standard of other […]

two stars

This year, TG’s summer slot play was Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Unfortunately, the first thought that came into my mind was that it was nowhere near the standard of other shows that the society has performed this academic year.

Even though there were some strong performances and a great set design, the show fell at many hurdles and so I don’t feel comfortable giving it more than two stars. There were some stand out performances from the actors, Leo Darlington, one of the directors, had to step in and take over the role of Mrs Bradman. She really made the part her own and it was not at all obvious that she had learnt the part on the day, bravo Leo. Oliver Bray really brought the show to life whenever he was on stage and showed immense stage presence. It was a shame that this was not so for the rest of the actors. Anna Williams, a strong actress, unfortunately wasn’t as convincing as I would have liked to have seen. Even though she played the role well, I could not make out every word she said. Diction and projection are essential, and even sitting on the front row, a lot of lines were lost.

blithe spirit

Hayley Baskerville played the first ghost extremely well, she really took the part for its value and felt comfortable on stage, which was extremely obvious for the audience. Lack of confidence among the actors was felt throughout the play and unfortunately hindered the overall performance, which could have been combatted by an increase in rehearsal time and allowing the actors to play around with their characters in order to have ownership over them. Kae Yeboah gave a very understated performance as Madame Arcati. Firstly, her costume was modern and didn’t fit the period, which was extremely distracting, and secondly, a few line mishaps meant that the story was often lost. I would have loved a completely over the top performance, caricatured, which would have really brought out the comedy within the script. This was an underlying problem with the production; Noel Coward cannot be taken straight from the script. Characters need to be over the top, relishing the comedy that the script provides. This was absent, apart from Andy Sugden, who really played up to this. The only problem with his performance was the fact that he often broke the fourth wall with the audience, which felt odd as no other character did the same.

Alex Scothbrook often showed promise within his role, however he did not know his lines and this was completely evident. It often felt like he did not want to be on stage which really slowed the pace down. Unfortunately, the direction of the show categorically let the performance down. Costume and prop errors really stood out, for example, a brand new copy of The Times was used. The headline detailing the crisis in Crimea was often shown to the audience along with the football colour images on the back. This could not have been more wrong. The pace of the show was extremely slow which could have been rectified by the directors really hammering in the need for pace and comic timing within a farce. The slow pace was not helped by the sound of a ticking clock. Firstly, having a working clock on stage is a large error as you constantly feel the need to check the time, therefore making the play seem longer than it is. However, to have the sounds of the ticking clock in conjunction with the slow speed of the show meant that the audience felt every slow second go past. It really made the show drag even more, which it did not need.

On top of this, there were basic directional errors. For a significant part of the show, I didn’t see the actors’ faces at all. To coin a phrase that I often use, ‘Tummies to Mummies’, it is essential that the actors are facing the audience and do not perform upstage. I also found some of the blocking unimaginative and boring. Variation within the blocking would have helped the show feel less stagnant. This culminated in the final sequence of the play. This scene is supposed to be completely over the top, loud, chaotic and actually a tad scary. Instead of laughing with the show, I found myself trying not to laugh at it.

However, one of the best parts of this production was the set. I have to give it to Stagesoc on this occasion, as I really believe that the set was fantastic. The use of the lighting was clever and the dry ice was used appropriately. Only a few mishaps occurred, for example the telephone didn’t stop ringing once he had picked the phone up. However this didn’t really hamper the performance. Overall, the show did have promise, however due to the numerous faults, this show was nowhere near as good as it could have been.