The QUADS May 2008 Play was Blithe Spirit, a supernatural comedy by Noel
Blithe Spirit (1941) is a comic play
written by Noel Coward which takes its title from Percy Bysshe Shelley's
poem To a Skylark. The action of the play centres on socialite Charles
Condomine being haunted by the ghost of his first wife Elvira following a
séance, and Elvira's continued (and increasingly desperate) efforts to
disrupt Charles' current marriage. The play is notable for the comic
character of Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium.
As with most of Coward’s work, Blithe
Spirit is renowned for its dialogue. The following comment comes from
Charles Condomine when arguing with his wife during a breakfast scene: “If
you're trying to compile an inventory of my sex life, I feel it only fair to
warn you that you've omitted several episodes. I shall consult my diary and
give you a complete list after lunch.”
The play set all manner of British
box-office records. Its mark of 1,997 consecutive performances in the West
End was only eventually beaten by Boeing Boeing in the 1970s.
In his autobiography Coward claimed he
wrote the play in five days during a holiday in Portmeirion, Wales. He wrote
it straight through from beginning to end and only two lines of dialogue
were removed before its first production in London.
"Blithe Spirit", the film
Blithe Spirit was also made into a
successful film in 1945, adapted by Coward himself and directed by David
Lean. The film stars Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond and
Margaret Rutherford with Joyce Carey and Noel Coward as narrator. Unusually
for the time, the film is in full colour.
Seeking material for his exposé about
psychics, author Charles Condomine (Harrison) hires a medium named Madame
Arcati (Rutherford) to his home to perform a séance. As Condomine, his wife
(Cummings) and their guests restrain their laughter, the eccentric Arcati
forges ahead with peculiar rituals and a propensity for clichés. Upon
conclusion, Arcati is obviously concerned about a twist the séance had
taken, although the author and his guests are dubious to anything
extraordinary having occurred.
However, during the seance, the spirit of Condomine’s first wife, Elvira
(played by Kay Hammond), has been accidentally summoned, and enters the
house. The author, who is the only person capable of seeing Elvira, becomes
both dismayed and amused at her sudden and unexpected presence. More
complications ensue once Condomine’s current wife becomes aware of the
ghost. Eventually, the author’s fascination wanes – especially when he
learns that Elvira has been plotting his demise. But the spirit
miscalculates and ends up dispatching Mrs. Condomine instead, after which
the author is haunted by both of his deceased wives.
Arcati is contacted to rid his household of
both spirits. Although she appears successful at first, it becomes obvious
that one or more spirits have remained invisible in the house, and the plot
to bring Charles Condomine into the spirit realm remains...