Tag Archives: Jemima Rooper

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit – Gielgud Theatre, London

Noël Coward’s irresistible play Blithe Spirit returns to the West End accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and Dame Angela Lansbury in her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years. But in some ways Lansbury’s presence is a distraction that overshadows the supremely gifted actors on whom much of the action hangs.

Written in five days in 1941 whilst on holiday in Portmeirion after his London flat was bombed, Coward said on its completion: “I knew it was witty, I knew it was well constructed, and I also knew that it would be a success”.

Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre Blithe Spirit at GielgudMarried to second wife, the straight-laced, reliable Ruth (Janie Dee), and seeking some background for a new novel about a homicidal medium, author Charles Condimine (Charles Edwards) decides to hold a séance with local spiritualist Madame Arcati (Lansbury). But when the dotty medium summons the spirit of Charles’ first wife, the effervescent (and unfaithful) Elvira, marital discord ensues as Charles begins to question the quiet life he’s come to embrace.

10529_show_landscape_large_01While accusations of misogyny have been levelled at the play in modern times, it ploughs a familiar furrow for Coward, a subject explored in different ways in his works Private Lives, Hay Fever and Design for Living, that of his belief in the impossibility of monogamy. It must be said though that Coward does allows his female characters to be as naughty as his males. Sparkling with Coward’s wonderful, witty dialogue the whole production is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. It has its flaws, it takes a little while to warm up and there’s a little lull in the second act, but any flaws are easily forgiven.

For most, it is Lansbury that is the draw and it’s undoubtedly a belter of a role for any actress to get her teeth into, and happily she doesn’t disappoint. Delightfully dotty, she totters around the stage with an energy that belies her years, conjuring mayhem with every step. To her credit Lansbury doesn’t play it solely for laughs, Madame Arcati truly believes she has a gift and the withering looks she aims at sceptical local doctor’s wife Mrs. Bradman thoroughly chill. It must be said though that there are little moments when she’s grasping for her line but she covers it well, and for an 88 year old it is a remarkable performance.

1.168979The stand-out star though, is Charles Edwards without doubt one of the UK’s finest actors. He careers from suave imperturbability to abject panic when Elvira threatens his cosy existence with consummate ease and his comic timing is masterful. Edwards is ably supported by a flirty Jemima Rooper as Elvira and the ever-watchable Janie Dee as Ruth. There’s also an amusing turn from Patsy Ferran as dippy maid Edith here in her professional debut.

This is a classy affair throughout and well worth catching if you can and oh, so much more than just a vehicle for Britain’s latest theatrical Dame.

REVIEW: One Man Two Guv’nors starring James Corden, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, 29th October 2011

Originally this had a limited run at the National Theatre at the beginning of 2011. It’s now on a whistle-stop tour before going into The Adelphi in the West End.

Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 comedy The Servant of Two Masters. The plot almost defies description. The safest way to describe it is to say that it’s a farce (not something that is oft seen in theatre these days), and I mean that in the theatrical way!  It has been re-set to 1963 Brighton, and the key point is that Francis Henshall (James Corden), a failed skiffle player, finds himself working for two guvnors. One, Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), is disguised as her dead gangland twin, and, in her mop-top wig, bears an uncanny resemblance to Ringo Starr!!!

Francis’s other employer is a snooty toff, Stanley Stubbers, who not only killed Rachel’s brother but is also her secret lover. Neither boss is aware the other is in Brighton, as Francis bounces between them like a shuttlecock and, in the play’s most famous scene, serves them dinner simultaneously.

This isn’t exactly a stretch for Corden, being an amalgam of everything you’ve ever seen him in, but you can’t criticise that. He keeps the energy up throughout all of the slapstick and interacts brilliantly with the audience. While Corden is the star, the supporting cast are really strong.

Oliver Chris as Stanley is the epitome of over the top characatured public school arrogance. He has some completely insane lines to deliver which he does brilliantly wringing every bit of humour out of them with a glint in his eye;

Daniel Rigby (whom I last saw in his fantastic BAFTA award winning role as Eric Morecambe in Victoria Wood’s Eric & Ernie) as a would-be actor has fantastic, old-school luvvie theatrical mannerisms. He storms, minces and prances around the stage in turn, delivering his (also outrageously over-the-top lines) with maximum gusto.

Suzie Toase is pitch perfect as sex-pot Dolly;

and Jemima Rooper as the male-attired Rachel has a wonderful swagger.  Adding to the joyous atmosphere, there’s even a skiffle group The Craze who play before, during and after the performance.

But what makes the show so enjoyable is its combination of visual and verbal comedy.

The dinner scene with the octogenarian waiter, magnificently played by Tom Edden, whose hand alarmingly quivers (Mrs. Overall-like) as he serves a tureen of soup, is fabulously funny.

The second half doesn’t quite match the first for hilarity, but as a whole it is laugh-out-loud funny and every single person on the stage is an absolute gem and that’s a rare thing to say, so if you’re in London anytime soon, I urge you to get a ticket.

Postscript – This is going on a national tour at the end of 2012 so you now have the chance to catch it at a theatre near you.