If you’re still wondering where poor Lady Edith’s lover, Michael Gregson is, well, we have him, but only until this weekend. Charles Edwards who plays the publisher and editor of the society magazine “The Sketch” on Downton Abbey is currently the lead actor in “Blithe Spirit,” a production that features multiple Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury.
Gregson was caught in a troublesome, but morally grey love triangle. His wife was insane in that Jane Eyre way, but safely locked up in an asylum. He was in love with Edith and unwisely forgot to use birth control, leaving Edith with a baby and tottering on maternal stalkerhood and social scandal.
In “Blithe Spirit,” Edwards’ character, a successful novelist named Charles Condomine, decides to meddle in the spiritual world on a lark. He wants to find material for a future novel and invites Madame Arcati (Lansbury) to hold a seance only to find himself caught between his current wife Ruth (Charlotte Parry) and the spirit of his late wife, Elvira (Elvira). The ladies aren’t willing to share.
As one would expect in a city full of actors, Lansbury’s entrance receives an appreciative round of clapping and she doesn’t disappoint. Her Madame Arcati could be the object of ridicule, as is the original intent of Charles, but she shows herself to be good-natured and practical.
Lansbury won her first Tony in 1966 for “Mame.” That was followed by “Dear World” (1968), “Gypsy” (1974) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979). Then she dallied in TV to star in the longest-running detective drama series “Murder, She Wrote” from 1984-1996 and received four Golden Globes. Her 2009 portrayal of Madame Arcati earned her a fifth Tony. She also has a Lifetime Achievement Oscar (2013 after three nominations) and last year she was named a Dame of the English Empire.
Edwards originated the role of Bertie in the West End production of “The King’s Speech” and on Broadway he portrayed Richard Hannay in the Tony Award-winning production of “The 39 Steps,” having originated the role in London.
Jemima Rooper makes for a vivacious and lustful Elvira while Parry’s Ruth is definitely a woman who prefers a controlled environment. Rooper’s Elvira is a charming, deceptive creature with earthy passions even at a time when she has no real earthly presence. She’s more lively than the restrained Ruth that Parry makes more respectable than likable.
Directed by Michael Blakemore, this revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” has the style and grace of another era and abundant wit.
If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, then you’ll especially appreciate this comedy of manners accompanied by witty sniping–even more so if you watched the special specifically on Downton Abbey and manners. The Condomines are not aristocracy like the Crawleys, but they do aspire to a high society country life.
The title of the play is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem: “To the Skylark.”
Fans of Angela Lansbury and Downtown Abbey and Noel Coward, this is a must-see and you only have until the end of the weekend to see it. “Blithe Spirit ends its run on 18 January 2015 at that Ahmanson.