Review – Blithe Spirit starring Dame Angela Lansbury, Gielgud Theatre

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Perhaps that should be Dame-elect.poster

As far as we know Angela Lansbury‘s still waiting to pick up her gong. But it’s well-timed. Charity gigs aside (Phil once saw her perform ‘Bosom Buddies’ with Bea Arthur), she’s not appeared on the London stage for almost 40 years. How canny of Palace officials to catch her while they can.

And gosh, we hadn’t seen post-show crowds outside a stage door like these for years. Presumably most are familiar with her from constant reruns of Murder, She Wrote rather than Gaslight, The Manchurian Candidate or her record number of Tony Award acting wins.

We watched it in mild amazement from the safety of The White Horse upstairs bar as a Mark Shenton look-alike tried to corral the throng seeping out from behind the crash barriers, to allow access for her car. Which, when it came, she entered, wound down the window and threw cheery waves on departing.

Let’s hope when she goes to the Palace she gets HMQ and not one of the second-stringers. They can have a wave-off.

Now, unless you’re connected to someone in the show or Biggins and get invited to the opening, there’s two ways for ordinary members of the public to get tickets for Blithe Spirit. You can either forgo a few luxuries and fork out up to £92.25, or you can do as we did and enjoy a morning sojourn playing Scrabble on the pavement outside the Gielgud Theatre and get one of the day seats for £10*.

And don’t ask us what time you should get there or who won most of the games. This was Phil and Andrew’s most eagerly anticipated theatrical event of the year, so we weren’t taking any chances. If only we’d known. We formed an orderly queue of 2, until 15 minutes before the box office opened at 10am when we were joined by one other gentleman of a certain age who insisted on standing too close to Phil’s personal space despite the fact there were still only the 3 of us.

So what of the Michael Blakemore‘s production itself you may well ask? Gosh there’s barely the space or the energy. This was only the second preview of Noël Coward‘s famous comedy but, well, people are forking out an awful lot of money, so the preview issue becomes slightly redundant.

The consistently terrific Charles Edwards is novelist, Charles Condomine, who calls on the services of dotty medium and detective novelist children’s book writer Madame Arcati (Dame A), in the interests of research. Arcati turns up, presumably having cycled straight from the same hair salon where Princess Leia gets coiffed and accidentally conjures up the ghost of Charles’ dead wife Elvira (Jemima Rooper). He can see and hear her but his current wife Ruth (Janie Dee) can’t. Comedic mayhem ensues.

It’s a stellar cast alright and despite considerable line-stumbling are all rather splendid. Lansbury, reprising her 2009 Tony-winning Broadway performance, was applauded on her entrance and got a standing O at the end. Seems fair enough when you’re ninety next year. Charles Edwards’ fabulous hair warrants one in itself.

She doesn’t overdo things as in our last Blithe Spirit and has some nice comic touches. We particularly appreciated her getting-into-trance dance, her passion for cucumber sandwiches and throughout displays remarkable presence, grace and energy. If only we’d actually seen her trying to cycle in her bohemian outfits. Though it was reassuring to see she has a crash helmet of cinnamon pastries adorning her head.

Dee’s a gloriously spiky and dry delight as the second Mrs Condiment and Rooper is enjoyable displaying playful petulance as the troublemaking spirit. Serena Evans and Simon Jones (cousin of Daniel Craig according to Wikipedia) make a not inconsiderable something out of their supporting roles as the Bradmans and we were particularly taken by Patsy Ferran’s eye-rollingly hopeless maid Edith, especially in her stroppy clearing of the breakfast table.

And spookily (for Andrew) there are numerous references to Folkestone which Andrew had visited for his first time only on Saturday (another £10 offer). Apparently he’ll do anything for a tenner.

Simon Higlett’s set does what it needs to do (though, without giving too much away the books effect is a bit rubbish close up) and the costumes are glorious. It’s a good solid comedy yet despite all this it still comes over as bit creaky at times. None of this stopped us smiling a lot and occasionally laughing out loud.

This is critic-proof. We saw A Little Night Music on the Broadway during Lansbury’s two week vacation, so we were just happy to be there. If we’d shelled out £82.25 Phil would probably award a robust 3 glass rating.

But, for us, this wasn’t normal theatre. This was an event…

*Ticket Tip
Apparently people queued from as early as 5am for the first preview on Saturday. We weren’t nearly as early as that so perhaps weekdays are best. Just don’t blame us if you don’t get one.

There are only 10 £10 dayseats up for grabs. Only 4 are in the front row (2 pairs on either end of it). We’re not sure where the others are (boxes were mentioned) and that’s subject to change. The view is magnificent, the stage isn’t high and if you’re first in line opt for the right hand side (as you face the stage) as the seances will happen just in front of you.

And you can wallow smugly in the knowledge that the people immediately next to you forked out £82.25 (£92.25 after the official opening). Yes, they’re selling front row as Premium Seats! Shocking. Andrew and Phil, of course, couldn’t resist declaiming loud variations on “Aren’t these seats wonderful for £10” and “It’s cheaper than going to the cinema.”

Google fact
You only have to tap in the first 4 letters of Angela before Angela Lansbury’s name appears on the suggestions list, second to Angelina Jolie’s and 2 above ‘anger management’. When you get to the 6th letter she’s top of the bill above Angela Merkel. But maybe Phil’s laptop has sussed out what he’s more interested in.



8 Responses to “Review – Blithe Spirit starring Dame Angela Lansbury, Gielgud Theatre”

  1. nikkimusingsandthoughts Says:

    I managed to get £17 tkt online (delfont mackintosh) in the dress circle (side) a bit of leaning fwd but great view.

  2. Salvatore Says:

    “I’ve done more crap than I care to remember. I really have. ‘Airwolf.’ ‘Murder, She Wrote.'” … Bryan Cranston

    Glad the Blighty audience was cheering, unlike Yankee snobs who still disdain Dame A. for piling up millions from Murder She Wrote, a consciously simple-minded show that served as an employment agency for otherwise unemployable ex-Hollywood contract players who were not even acceptable on “Love Boat” –

  3. John Carter Says:

    “Phil once saw her perform ‘Bosom Buddies’ with Bea Arthur.” Oh Phil… nostalgia! We were there too, a memorial concert. BTHD. DAWTH.

  4. I so can’t wait to see this, i’ve adored (well hero worshipped might be a better description) Dame Angela since a young age.

  5. alisonmee Says:

    I saw this on Saturday evening, front row of the grand circle, got my ticket the day before for £20. Great view, good show, wonderful performances, not just the legendary Lansbury. Although there is probably still a knee shaped dint in the balcony where I cracked my knee on it sitting down, still have the bruises to prove it, but the wine measures in the bar are quite generous and dulled the pain!

  6. Glen Morranjie Says:

    Saw this on the evening of Saturday 12 April. Joined the dayseat queue at 8:45 am and managed to get a front row of stalls £10 dayseat. A very good show, very funny and Al was excellent.

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