Admittedly, 88-year-old Angela Lansbury (back on the UK stage for the first time in nearly 40 years to reprise the role which won her awards on Broadway in 2009) doesn’t actually make her entrance on a bicycle, but her memorable performance as eccentric, bike-riding medium Madame Arcati includes an idiosyncratic little dance as she tries to commune with the other side. And she’s also expert at delivering a crushingly-withering stare when her authenticity is questioned in 85-year-old Aussie Michael Blakemore’s well-paced revival of Noel Coward’s 1941 Blithe Spirit.
Penned in less than a week, it’s a frothy piece of supernatural mayhem and marital jealousy in which a suave Charles Edwards excels as novelist Charles Condomine trying to placate his second wife (Janie Dee’s cool Ruth) when his deceased first, Elvira, makes a ghostly return – unseen by all but him – to recapture her place in his affections.
Jemima Rooper plays her as a seductively mischievous minx and Coward’s sharp dialogue illustrates once again his scepticism about the possibility of monogamous marital bliss.
Meanwhile, at a mere 81, master farceur Ray Cooney goes a step further – not only directing this amusing revival of his 1980’s success Two Into One, but even taking a tumble as the doddery, tip-hungry waiter at the Westminster Hotel where junior minister Richard Willey (the name says it all) has arranged an assignation with one of PM Maggie Thatcher’s (married) secretaries – not, perhaps the best idea when he’s already staying there with his wife.
All credit to Cooney for some extremely intricate plotting which involves – of course – numerous doors, dropped trousers and multiple mistaken identities as the errant MP tries to get his leg over. Nick Wilton is a natural as Willey’s tubby PPS, increasingly embroiled in his philandering plans and the unlikely object of Mrs Willey’s frustrated desires, and although, in my view, the production is not yet frenetic enough, it’s only fair to report that the matinee performance I saw was greeted by appreciative gales of laughter almost from start to finish.
Two into One is on until April 26 at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Tickets cost £25 – £35. Click here to book.
Blithe Spirit is on until June 7 at the Gielgud Theatre.
Tickets cost £10 – £59. Click here to book.