Jennifer Saunders in Blithe Spirit at Richmond Theatre and West End

I never know what to expect when I get the chance to review and some of the time a play exceeds my expectations. Blithe Spirit was one of those. 

The playwright Noel Coward is widely known as a genius and as he was born in my local area, I knew it was going to be busy. Then I heard Jennifer Saunders was in it too, and I knew tickets were going to be in demand, and sure enough there wasn’t a spare seat to be found.

I’m always delighted to see some effort in a stage set as that’s the first thing you see and transports you into the environment of the story and you’re going to spend a few hours looking at. In this case the set was brilliant. The interior of the manor house where the “spirit” is going to arrive was carefully constructed with so much detail. An old fashioned record player, typewriter, radio, several grand period works of art, a library filled with books and on two levels. 

Lighting too was impressive. I thought the lighting when we first view the spirit was particularly effective. It sent chills down the audiences spine as she enters unexpectedly. When someone turns up a light switch the front of house lights came on, then when the spirit arrived in the room several wall lights flashed intermittently. A great job and not something you usually spot. 

So with both the set and lighting getting first class mentions, I could continue with lots of positives in the cast, direction and the play itself.  It was a wonderful treat from beginning to end and I was smiling from beginning to end wondering how it would proceed and my feelings of spirits.  Jennifer Saunders, who plays clairvoyant Madame Arcati, was fully in character from beginning to end and it’s clear why she’s been around since the 80s. She works very hard and has great stage presence. Her supporting cast are all superb and bring their A game to the performance. 

It’s hard to believe that this classic play was written in May 1941. Noel Coward had been at a public séance as a boy and the idea came to him when he was visiting the seaside village of Portmeiron for a week long holiday. He wrote it only six days.  Five weeks later it was being performance in Manchester.  

This play is great fun. The effects, a fantastic story, great cast and first class production team make this one of the best plays I’ve seen for a while.

Go buy tickets for Richmond this week, or see it when it comes to the West End at the Duke Of York’s Theatre for a longer run in March.  

Get West End tickets here:- 

Review by Douglas McFarlane, founder of UK Theatre Network.