BLITHE SPIRIT by Noël Coward
Directed by Joanna Weir Ouston, from Oxford School of Drama, UK
Written during the London Blitz of 1941, Blithe Spirit has remained popular for over seven decades, has been nominated for eight Tony awards, and warmed the hearts of wartime theatergoers. Coward’s wit remains timeless in this comedy. As The Guardian says, Blithe Spirit is a “…outlandish comic fantasy…”
Blithe Spirit is about the socialite and novelist, Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for the novel he is working on. The scheme goes awry when his first wife comes back to haunt him in the form of a ghost, attempting to disrupt his second marriage and unnerve his current wife, Ruth, who is unable to hear or see the ghost. This comic play, written in less than one week, hit the stage with immediate popularity and remains popular today.
Play: July 20, 21, 22 and 27, 28, 29
Dinner and Play: Saturdays July 21 and 28 … SATURDAY IS SOLDOUT
Dinner 6:00pm; Play 7:30pm
Rock Harbor, Orleans MA
Purchase On-Line Here
Play: $35 regular, $30 Seniors; Free admission 18 & under
Dinner and Play: $65 regular; $60 Seniors
Noël Coward was an Academy Award-winning English actor, and a prolific playwright and composer of popular music, a director and singer, writer of poetry and short stories – known for his wit, flamboyance—what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise.”
By the time of his death, the Times newspaper was writing of him: None of the great figures of the English theatre has been more versatile than he, and the paper ranked his plays in the classical tradition of Congreve, Sheridan, Wilde, and Shaw.
Cast & Staff
Cast & Staff
DIRECTOR – JOANNA WEIR OUSTON
Joanna Weir Ouston has worked as a theatre director and actor in the UK, USA and Australia, and is a voice and text teacher of international repute. She teaches and directs at the Oxford School of Drama, and previously at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London – two of the UK’s leading professional theatre schools. She has also worked as a Voice and Text coach for the RSC, Theatre Royal Haymarket, Young Vic, and professional regional theatres in the UK, as well as the BBC.
For Elements Theatre Company she has directed All My Sons, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, Lettice and Lovage, The Lion In Winter, and was Voice and Text Coach on Murder In The Cathedral. Recently she directed an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It set in Oxfordshire manor houses for the Oxford School of Drama.
Joanna has given papers and lead specialist professional workshops at international theatre conferences such as Giving Voice (Wales), the European League of Institutes of the Arts (Warsaw, Poland) and the British Voice Association (London & Bristol). In 1987 she received a Churchill Fellowship and an Australia Council Award to further her work in theatre. As an actor she has performed in London, the USA and Australia, and she has also worked professionally as a writer for radio and television.
Madame Arcati – Sr. Danielle Dwyer
Charles – Zachary Clark
Ruth – Sr. Phoenix Catlin
Doctor Bradman – Brad Lussier
Mrs. Bradman – Sr. Diana Shannon
Elvira – Stephanie Haig
Edith – Sarah Hale
Playwright, Noël Coward
Lord Louis Mountbatten said of Noël Coward at his 70th birthday celebration in 1969: “There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people. Only one man combined all fourteen different labels – The Master.”
News & Reviews
News & Reviews
” ‘Blithe Spirit’ all-around tour de force in Orleans”
… Cape Cod Times
“It’s easy to see why Coward is one of the most popular playwrights of our time. Not only is the subject matter a delight, but the way he presents it is brilliant. The director, Joanna Weir Ouston, states in her notes that “the characters adhere to strong social forms and are masters of the polite riposte which is both funny and cutting, and at times hilariously absurd.” This is the only time I’ve understood every word in a play with British accents and haven’t been distracted by it.
Madame Arcati, played to the hilt by Sr. Danielle Dwyer, is a show-stealer. The character, in contrast to the socialites who hire her, feels contemporary and real. She tells it like it is, expresses herself freely and is fun to watch. Dwyer brings Madame Arcati hilariously to life…
Clark (Charles Condomine) is spot-on as he descends from being on top of the world into a realm of disbelief and impending lunacy.
The ghost of Charles’ dead wife, Elvira (Stephanie Haig) is an ethereal delight. She’s both funny and spellbinding as she makes a mess of things in her efforts to keep Charles forever.
Elements Theatre Company does a terrific job with “Blithe Spirit,” and conjures up a healthy dose of joy and laughter…”
“A Lively And Funny ‘Blithe Spirit’ At Elements”
…Cape Cod Chronicle
“Noel Coward would have been delighted to attend the production of his play, “Blithe Spirit” at Elements Theatre in Orleans” …Cape Codder
Contact: Kirsti Pfeiffer
Email: [email protected]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ELEMENTS THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS
NOËL COWARD’S WITTY COMEDY, BLITHE SPIRIT
Don’t miss this age-old “…outlandish comic fantasy…”
July 20-29 – This summer, don’t miss Elements Theatre Company’s production of Noël Coward’s comedy, Blithe Spirit, directed by Joanna Weir Ouston (Oxford School of Drama, UK). Written during the London Blitz of 1941, it has remained popular for over seven decades, has been nominated for eight Tony awards, and is said to have warmed the hearts of wartime theatre goers. Coward’s wit remains timeless in this comedy that explores the endeavors of long-term commitment.
As The Guardian says, Blithe Spirit is an “…outlandish comic fantasy…”
Blithe Spirit is about the socialite and novelist, Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for the novel he is working on. The scheme goes awry when his first wife comes back to haunt him in the form of a ghost, attempting to disrupt his second marriage and unnerve his current wife, Ruth, who is unable to hear or see the ghost. This comic play, written in less than one week, hit the stage with immediate popularity, and remains popular today.
Noël Coward was an Acadamy Award-winning English actor, and a prolific playwright and composer of popular music, a director and singer, writer of poetry and short stories – known for his wit, flamboyance—what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise.”
Come to enjoy this timeless, witty comedy, Blithe Spirit, by Noël Coward, presented by Elements Theatre Company of Orleans, MA—a sure way to enjoy a summer evening on Cape Cod.
July 20-22 & 27-29 at 7:30PM
Pre-performance Dinners July 21 & 28 at 6:00PM (Reservations Required)
Paraclete House, Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA
For tickets call 508-240-2400, visit elementstheatre.org, or purchase at the door.
Critical Acclaim for Elements Theatre Company
“Everything about this production is awe-inspiring, from the intricate yet natural looking set to the wonder of the audience actually feeling as though they are part of the story…the acting is honestly superb.” —Broadway World
“[We] commend this theater group for seeking to be agents of change through art.”
“Theirs is a labor of love. Their professionalism and commitment to their craft are unmistakable.”—Broadway World
“Elements Theatre Company is about more than entertainment: every piece they undertake explores the breadth of humanity — its horror, its loveliness, and its humor — with honesty. These actors hold up the mirror for themselves and in turn give us, the audience, the courage to look into that mirror too, and not shy away from what we find.” —Julie Harris
From the Director
From the Director
Welcome to our production of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. By the time he wrote Blithe Spirit, Coward was a very successful and prolific writer. Incredibly, he wrote the play in only six days in 1941 at the height of World War II. There were no subsequent re-writes, and only two lines were cut from that first draft in the original production which premiered just six weeks later.
In 1941, bombs were falling on London and fear of Nazi invasion gripped the country, so Coward decided to write a comedy to lighten people’s hearts and provide a happy distraction from the turbulence and distress of the times. Surprisingly, he chose death as a central theme, shocking a handful of critics but impressing most who thought it was a stroke of daring and genius to write a play about so sensitive a subject.
Death was touching the life of everyone in the nation, yet here was a comedy which centered around a séance, a widower, his second wife and the impishly charismatic ghost of his first wife. It was set in quiet, rural Kent before the war, allowing audience’s imaginations to escape back to less troubled times and, while all deaths are sad, Elvira’s death from laughing too heartily at a BBC program transformed potential tragedy into farce.
Blithe Spirit was a huge hit. Coward wrote of the first night: “The audience … had to walk across planks laid over rubble caused by a recent air raid to see a light comedy about death. They enjoyed it, I am glad to say, and it ran from that sunny summer evening through the remainder of the war and out the other side.” In fact, it ran for four years straight with a total of 1,997 performances. Since then there have been countless revivals in the UK, USA and abroad, a 1952 film directed by David Lean, and a musical version called “High Spirits”.
Why was it so successful? It is beautifully written with witty repartee, well drawn comic characters, and is full of charm. It gave people hope that there was an after-life and allowed them to laugh in the face of tragedy. After all, Elvira was having a great time on the ‘Other Side’ playing dice with Genghis Khan and befriending Joan of Arc. On a deeper level, for anyone whose grief may have lead them to secretly wish in their heart that the spirit of their dearly departed loved one could somehow return or communicate with them, Charles Condomine’s comically frustrating predicament would have been a humorous and sobering reinforcement of the need to accept and move forward in one’s life.
It has been an absolute delight to return to Elements Theatre Company to direct this play. Elements always looks for a challenge and Blithe Spirit certainly throws down the gauntlet. It may be a light comedy but the theatrical demands it places on cast and crew are considerable. Coward’s style of writing is very much of its era and British in its brand of wit and sparring nonchalance. The characters adhere to strong social forms and are masters of the polite riposte which is both funny and cutting, and at times hilariously absurd. Coward’s writing employs a distinctive style and syntax which is very much a reflection of his time and culture, and also of Coward himself. His is a theatrical genre which is challenging to British and American actors alike, and also places precise accent demands on the cast. The language may have a lightness and an edge, but the writing is wordy with frequent long, witty sentences which, at times, are like tongue twisters in their complexity. Then, of course, there are the technical demands of the story with its naive fantastical elements.
We have had a very enjoyable time rehearsing this play and working out how to bring Coward’s vision to life. It has been my honour and privilege to work once more with this wonderful group of actors, designers, costumiers, set builders and crew – all artists in their fields – who strive to achieve excellence in their areas of endeavour.
In 1964 Coward wrote, “I must say, with what will seem to be a refreshing gust of modesty, that in my opinion I have never achieved the perfect play that I have always longed, and will always long, to write – but I shall ever be grateful for the almost psychic gift that enabled me to write “Blithe Spirit” in [six] days during one of the darkest years of the war.”
Coward wanted to give the British people a distraction from the war, a celebration of British life, and a reason to continue to fight for that life. The mark of a gifted writer is that 77 years later his work continues to entertain and give successive generations of theatregoers a joyous, light-hearted escape.
I hope you enjoy the show!
See and Hear
See and Hear
Sir Noël Peirce Coward
(December 16, 1899 – March 26, 1973)
- Born into humble beginnings in Teddington – Middlesex, a southwestern suburb of London.
- He attended Italia Conti Academy stage school and his first professional engagement was at the age of 12, in the children’s play The Goldfishon January 27, 1911.
- Following this, he made numerous appearances in various productions in London’s famed West End theatre district, including a major role in Peter Pan
- He played in several productions with the actor Sir Charles Hawtrey, a Victorian comedian, whom he learned comic acting technique and playwriting.
- He was drafted briefly into the British Army during World War I but was discharged due to ill health.
- It was during this period he began writing plays, starting with The Rat Trap in 1918 and then his first full-length play, I’ll Leave It To You, which opened at London’s New Theatre in 1920. (Renamed the Noel Coward Theatre in 2006).
- His first success was in 1923 with The Young Idea, followed by high critical acclaim in 1924 with The Vortex.
- He premiered Hay Fever in 1925, the first of his plays to gain a place in the mainstream theatre repertoire, and is still considered a comic classic.
- He thrived during the Great Depression, churning out many popular hits, from large-scale spectaculars to intimate comedies. Examples of the spectaculars being the operetta Bitter Sweet (1929) and the historical extravaganza, Cavalcade (1931) with its film adaptation winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1933. His intimate-scale hits included Private Lives (1930), Design for Living (1932), and Tonight at 8:30, a series of short plays that ran three evenings. One of these short plays, Still Life, was expanded into a film called Brief Encounter which was nominated for Academy Award and to this day is still one of the most beloved screen romances of all time.
With the outbreak of WWII, Coward left the theatre and worked on behalf of the British Intelligence, running the British propaganda office in Paris. He was asked to go to the US to use his celebrity to influence the American public and political opinion in favor of helping Britian.
- Eventually his longstanding friend, Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister, suggested he could do more for the war effort by entertaining the troops and the home front… “Go and sing to them while the guns are firing – that’s your job!”
- He toured, singing across Europe, Africa, Asia and America.
- He also wrote, starred in and co-directed the naval drama, In Which We Serve. He based the naval captain in the film on his friend Lord Louis Mountbatten). The movie was popular on both sides of the Atlantic and received an honorary Academy Award in 1943.
- Coward’s most enduring work from the war years was the hugely successful 1941 comedy, Blithe Spirit. With 1,997 consecutive performances, it broke box-office records for the run of a West End comedy. It was also produced on Broadway, where its original run was 650 performances and the play was adapted into a 1945 film, again written by Coward.
- Moving away from theatre, he wrote a comic novel in 1960, Pomp and Circumstance, which was a critical success.
- He was also an actively-involved as the President of the Actors Orphanage from 1934 for twenty-two years, with a sense of responsibility and compassion . He visited regularly, employed responsible, caring staff, brought famous friends, gave birthday and Christmas presents to all the children, held annual theatrical performances, raising funds to keep it running and moved the children to New York during the London bombings, and kept in touch with many of them over the years.
- He was an accomplished painter (regularly painting with Winston Churchill) and a good friend of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
- In 1969, he received a Fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature and in 1972, an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Sussex and a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.
- He was knighted in 1970.
- Noel Coward died of a heart attack in 1973 at his Jamaican mountaintop home, March 28, 1984, the Queen Mother unveiled a memorial stone in his honor, in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and in 1998 she unveiled a statue of Coward by Angela Conner in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.