On Saturday March 8th 2014 I took my seat in a packed auditorium to see my first Coward play. The attraction which had drawn me (and my husband) to the West End was Angela Lansbury who was playing Madame Arcati. Most probably that was the reason many were there as well. As the lights went down a hush descended and the action began. When Dame Angela Lansbury first appeared the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
The Condomine’s Charles and Ruth have arranged a dinner party with friends Dr & Mrs Bradman and the medium Madame Arcati. After dinner Madame Arcati would perform a seance and thus it was hoped , would provide Charles with character material for his next book. Neither the Condomine’s or Bradman’s believed in Madame Arcati’s abilities, and after the proceedings finished both the Condomine’s and Bradman’s ( especially the women) dissolved into fits of laughter. Madame had been a spectacular failure they thought, but had she, as clearly something had happened. It was Charles faced with the apparition of his first wife Elvira who realised that “contact with the other side” had happened spectacularly. The remainder of the play and its humour relied on the interjections between Charles, his dead wife Elvira and his second wife Ruth. With three way conversations going on, but only two living people being seen, much confusion and hilarity ensued.
Finally convinced that the Elvira (played by the wonderful Jemima Rooper) ethereal existence was only too real , Ruth sought out the help of Madame Arcati to get rid of her rival. However when Madame expressed how difficult that task may be, Ruth showed her disdain to the medium and Madame stormed off. With the clear realisation that Elvira wanted Charles dead so she could be with him forever, Ruth went out to seek help from the local vicar. Before she could summon that help Ruth perished in a car accident, which should have involved Charles instead. Now there were two dead wives to haunt Mr Condomine, and Ruth could torment Elvira to her hearts content.
Eventually Elvira begged Charles to get Madame Arcati to send her back to where she had come from. This time Madame came prepared with a special spell, but no matter how many times she cast it, nothing worked. Obviously another psychic medium was involved and had summoned the dead women during the seance. It transpired that the maid Edith was unwittingly responsible, and with her help Madame Arcati returned both women to the afterlife. At the end Charles agreed with Madame that going away for a time would be best. As he dressed to leave his home, he mockingly taunted both his wives ghosts as they wrecked havoc on the house.
The play was very funny considering the subject matter and the cast were superb. As they took their bows an appreciative audience clapped loudly and Dame Angela Lansbury got a unanimous standing ovation. Bravo maestro.
Limited season with previews from March 1st. Booking until June 7th.