We started our 2013 visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with their production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit.
Premiering in 1941, it is a later Coward play written well after his earlier successes such as Hay Fever (1925), Easy Virtue (1925), Private Lives (1930) and Design For Living (1933). With World War II approaching its darkest hours in England, Coward felt the time was right for an escapist comedy. The play ran almost 2000 performances in the West End and more than 650 performances in its original Broadway run. While Coward would continue to write plays into the 1960’s, Blithe Spirit was his last, great stage success. It is a classic of Coward-esque wit. Which is to say, the humor can be a little bitchy. It is a favorite at Casa de Harper. That probably says more about the residents of Casa de Harper than it does about the play but that is a topic for another day.
The play is set in an affluent English home occupied by a writer, his wife and an eager new maid. With the possible assistance of the quirky neighborhood psychic, the ghost of the man’s deceased first wife shows up quite uninvited. Hijinks ensue. I always enjoy this play. It was a treat for Harper’s Other Dad who knows the play well from repeatedly hearing the audio recording but he had never seen it on the stage before.
Directed by Stratford veteran Brian Bedford, the production is well paced and sharply executed. The set is absolutely beautiful; it drew applause when the curtain went up, and has all the necessary, ‘old-school’ special effects the plot requires.
The evening was slightly marred by what Harper’s Other Dad has christened the “Friends of Dave factor”. It is a recurring theme whenever we travel that I seem to be a magnet for cranky people of a certain age who approach life with a strong sense entitlement. Wherever I am standing, you can be sure there will be a few folks nearby complaining loudly about something/everything, a few more cutting into the front of the line, and still more abusively demanding something completely unreasonable from some poor helpless service provider. There was literally a busload of them at the Tuesday evening performance of Blithe Spirit. Luckily, there were also cocktails. F.O.D factor notwithstanding, it was a nice performance and a great way to kick off Stratford 2013.