"A Talent to Amuse"
This was the reply that Noël Coward made when asked what he considered his greatest talent. It was true when he said it, and it is still true today.
His songs, musicals, plays, and films are still popular. Although they seem to have fallen out of favor with some, audiences still respond to his humor. Of course his was a different time and place. His attitudes and those of his characters seem foreign to many of us. And it is certainly helpful to consider a bit of context in order to enjoy Blithe Spirit, the comedy that I am directing for July at PCPH.
In 1941, England was fighting the beginnings of World War II. The German Blitz was nightly destroying parts of Coward’s London - including his own office and apartment. He took a short vacation and decided to write a comedy that would help lighten the mood of his fellow Brits. Because so many people were separated by the war, and so many were losing loved ones, he decided to use a supernatural theme in a comic way.
After its first production, some were outraged that Coward would make fun of death and the afterlife in such a light-hearted manner. Soon however, as Blithe Spirit began to set a box office record, those objections were set aside. Many people who had lost loved ones in the war were turning to spiritualism to try to contact them, and Madame Arcati’s antics put such actions in the context of the believable, if not the commonplace.
Noël Coward’s views on love and marriage are as much on display in Blithe Spirit as any treatise on séances, magic, or ghosts. He has some interesting things to say about relationships and moving on with our lives. These are the subjects of the comedy.
I ask that our audiences not give too much time over to debunking or decrying Madame Arcati or her practices, or even the curiosity that drives our main characters to ask for her services. Blithe Spirit is a comedy in the best Coward manner, and is best viewed that way.
Today Noël Coward can be appreciated with an expectation of amusement and an appreciation of time and place.
Blithe Spirit was revived on Broadway last season. Angela Lansbury won the Tony Award for her performance as Madame Arcati. In the mid-1960’s, it was transformed into a musical titled High Spirits.
There are parts for 2 men and 5 women in Blithe Spirit, and I am hoping that we have some adventurous performers who take this journey with me.
Join me as we call up the Blithe Spirit, one of the plays presented during the first season of the Greencastle Summer Theatre. It will be fun, I promise you.
Jack Randall Earles