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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Blithe Spirit, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Perth Theatre
Two stars
GHOSTS, as we all know, are pallid creatures. Not so in this revival of Noël Coward's supernatural comedy. In contrast to the transparent drapes, pastel fittings and twinkling chandeliers of Kenny Miller's 1940s set, Sally Reid's deceased Elvira is a blood-red apparition whose fiery tresses and scarlet robes project the image of a woman with more pulse and passion, dead or not, than any of the delicate human beings she has returned to haunt.

At least, that's how it nearly works in Johnny McKnight's production. It would be easier to see Elvira as a life force from beyond the grave if the director hadn't relocated this most English of plays to a Perthshire village. Coward's very particular brand of humour depends on an emotional repression and, crucially, a restraint of expression that translates awkwardly from the home counties to upper-class Scotland. When subjected to the warm conversational delivery we get here, his clipped, performative language, with its heavy irony and aphoristic wit, is not as funny. Only Anne Lacey as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati consistently strikes the right note of brittle indifference. Everyone else is too human – although it's noticeable that the more intense the marital rows, the more convincing they sound.

As a result, many of the biggest laughs come from the theatrical interventions, whether that be the pratfalls of Scarlett Mack's housemaid or the flamboyant mincing of Billy Mack's Dr Breadman. They can be funny, but they're not really what the play is about.

Lurking behind the silly story of dead wives and seances is a more thoughtful study of passion, love and commitment. It's one we see too little of. Sure, we get a cheery show that jollies the audience along, but it's a ghost of what it could be.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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