REVIEW: Threesome impress in Coward's spirited romp

Chreise Clark (Elvira), Lori Tych (Ruth), and Ben Odberg (Charles) surrund Annabel Kershaw (as eccentric medium Madame Arcati) in Peninsula Productions
Chreise Clark (Elvira), Lori Tych (Ruth), and Ben Odberg (Charles) surrund Annabel Kershaw (as eccentric medium Madame Arcati) in Peninsula Productions' Blithe Spirit.
— image credit: Beverly Malcom photo

Peninsula Productions have a solid laugh-getter on their hands with this summer's offering, a revival of Noël Coward's very British comedy, Blithe Spirit.

Some reservations aside, this is Peninsula's best and most consistent summer show yet, following on a fine track record that includes Waiting For The Parade (2011), The Mousetrap (2012) and The Game's Afoot (2013).

Under the artistic direction of Wendy Bollard, it's also a demonstration of the level of professionalism, even in a non-professional production, that local community-based theatre can – and does – achieve.

Ben Odberg, Lori Tych and Cherise Clark are delightful as Coward's central romantic triangle, a successful novelist and his two wives, one very much alive, the other deceased, but returned as the "blithe spirit" of the title, thanks to an ill-advised after-dinner seance.

It's a long show, even reduced from Coward's original 1941 script, but the comedic talents of the leads – as well as Andrew Wood and Sheila Reader, equally strong in support – ensure that, for the most part, it doesn't wear out its welcome.

As the novelist, Charles Condomine, Odberg hits all the right notes of initial confusion and anguish – almost Wodehouse-ian in his goggle-eyed reaction as his comfortable, upper-crust train of existence derails, carriage by carriage.

Some fine moments of rapport with both of his leading ladies are also telling – as is the amusing sense, later in the play, that Charles has begun to enjoy contemplating the potential of a most unconventional menage.

Ever-reliable player Tych, as Charles' present wife, Ruth, delivers another splendidly judged performance, resisting shrillness in a nuanced depiction of a demanding woman infuriated by her husband's apparent lunacy (he alone can see and converse with the ghost of his first wife, Elvira) before realizing, a little too late, that she's competing with the shade of her predecessor.

Without eclipsing her co-stars, Clark takes full ownership of the role of the capricious, free-spirited, occasionally petulant Elvira, her characterization pitch-perfect in '30s-'40s tone and manner, and invested with a grand sense of fun, a twinkle in her eye, and good chemistry with Odberg's Charles.

Wood, as Dr. Bradman, draws a sure portrait of an affable, if skeptical friend, while Reader is consistently amusing, and on the mark, as his well-meaning but frequently bewildered wife.

As Madame Arcati, the medium whose intervention in the spirit world precipitates the chaotic sequence of events, Annabel Kershaw provides the called-for eccentricity and extravagance, but falls short of making her endearing. While she dips frequently into a capacious bag of tricks to elicit laughs, it's a performance that leans more toward clownishness than characterization.

Similarly, Stefania Wheelhouse, as Edith, the Condomines' inexperienced new maid, wins a laugh or two with some odd, inconsequential behavior, but never manages to relate it to a credible series of motivations. It's unfortunate that Bollard should have settled on this approach for a key supporting player, as it sets a good show off rather on the wrong foot.

On the plus side of the ledger, an excellent, virtually flawless English country house set – designed by Matt Vondette and built by Richard Stanyer – is so strong that it almost qualifies as a character in its own right, and it has been lovingly decorated by Mahara Sinclaire.

Lighting (Vondette again) and sound effects are well achieved – aside from over-heavy knocking by Arcati's spirit guide – and it's nice to hear Coward's own songs among Samantha Giffin's selection of incidental music. The production's welcome attention to detail can be seen in Rosemary Schuster's properties – including a vintage copy of The Times.

Anais West's costumes strive to flatter the actors; she has included some nice pieces to offset a few aberrations, and has made a stab, at least, at evoking period atmosphere.

The only question is which period?

Granted, there is an inherent problem of deciding in which year to set a play that, while written during the Second World War, makes no reference to it. But a specific determination of the era would have been useful – as it stands, it's hard to judge from scene to scene whether this production is aiming for a pre-war or post-war look.

Blithe Spirit runs until July 26 at White Rock's Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors (plus service charges), from 604-536-7535 or www.peninsulaproductions.org


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