Noël Coward’s ‘improbable farce – Blithe Spirit’ was written in 1941. Its focus is one that underlies all of Coward’s best comedies – the perils of long-term commitment. Coward’s hero, Charles Condomine, is a popular novelist who is famously spooked by his past. Married to the super-rational Ruth, his second marriage, he rashly holds a séance to research a thriller he is writing about a homicidal medium. But a jokey experiment causes marital mayhem when, with the aid of the feisty Mme Arcati, he finds his first wife, Elvira, has suddenly materialised. What follows is a spectral variation on the eternal triangle, with Charles torn between two equally demanding women.
Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in five days during the second world war. At the premiere the audience walked on planks over rubble caused by an air-raid to watch a play that seemed to laugh in the face of death. The plot is a parody of a folk tale – the witchdoctor wreaking havoc among superstitious villagers. The dialogue is pure Coward, acidic and nonchalant. “Anything interesting in the Times?” “Don’t be silly, Charles.”. Following its opening the play was an enormous success running for 1,997 performances in the West End. It is a play that ‘still startles and delights, Noël Coward’s most inventive comedies’ (The Telegraph, March 2014)