There’s nothing the Whingers like more than having the willies put up them.
With Ghost Stories under their belts and Ghost The Musical coming up in the outside lane the Whingers found themselves again taking stock of their relationship with the supernatural in the form of Noël Coward‘s Blithe Spirit.
And despite a cynical take on all things ectoplasmic Phil had a peculiar, nay spooky, experience at the Apollo Theatre. Only a few hours earlier he’d be musing not only about the last time he saw the play on stage (with “sock it to me!” Judy Carne as Elvira) but also about an old friend he’d lost touch with and hadn’t seen for many years. A dry, deeply cynical but solid fellow, definitely not prone to flights of fantasy, he had once told Phil a pretty convincing tale, witnessed by many others at the same moment, of seeing a ghost (a floating head if you please) in a Spanish monastery many years ago.* And there he was (the teller of the tale, not the ghost) standing in the bar at the interval of Monday’s preview, imbibing his own choice of spirits!
But director Thea Sharrock had called upon Alison Steadman to give her Madame Arcati, the batty medium who accidentally unleashes the spirit of Charles Condomine’s (Robert Bathhurst) dead wife Elvira (Ruthie Henshall) at a seance.
Everything should have been neatly positioned for the kind of evening the Whingers yearn for. A solid classic comedy with (if you watch telly) a starry-ish cast (Bathhurst was in Downton Abbey, for heaven’s sake). What went so horribly wrong?
Sharrock, who made such a brilliant job of last year’s After the Dance has been putting herself about a bit recently with Plenty finishing at the Sheffield Crucible last week, Ruby Wax – Losing It playing at the Menier and Cause Célèbre about to open at the Old Vic. BS started at the Theatre Royal Bath in November and comes to London via various other tour dates. Has she been spreading herself too thinly? Perhaps she should float her own head round the door to see what’s going on at the Apollo.
The subtle touch applied to After the Dance is missing here. This is played heavy and broad with little coming much broader than Steadman’s slightly charmless Arcati, grunting and throwing herself around gamely to conjure up the deceased: in this case the audience remained resolutely dead, at least until the interval.
Each scene’s neatly constructed finale fell flat. The curtain descended at the end of one scene leaving the audience sitting in silence. Not a single palm was raised.
Hermione Norris as Ruth, Charles’ second wife, is the only one that really seems the part, looking as if she has stepped straight out of an H. M. Bateman cartoon. Overcoming early projection problems she all but stole the show and not just because she gets the lion’s share of the costume budget. Simon Cowell should pop into the Apollo for a lesson in how to carry off high-waisted trousers.
Bathurst occasionally conjures up the spirit of Richard Briers (a good thing) and Henshall displays a rictus grin and bare feet throughout. Andrew’s only opportunity to exhale finally arrived at her pink-slippered curtain call.
The Whingers party’s plan to sing Happy Birthday to Ruthie (it was her 44th) at the end were scuppered by their lack of enthusiasm for the whole show. All rather dispiriting.
* If you’re still sceptical the Celebrity Paranormal Experiences website may change your mind.