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Ghost, spirit, apparition, spook… call them what you will, the after-life has forever held a fascination for humanity. We have always had an interest in what happens after death, whether there is some form of existence, and this leads some people to even try and contact the dear departed. Not necessarily an obvious subject for humour, and yet this very scenario is responsible for one of the most famous comedies of all time – Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. Remarkably, Coward wrote this play in 1941 when death was all around as a result of the Second World War, especially the Blitz, but he never had any concerns that it would be considered in bad taste. Director Jay Westaway explains “Death is never seen as horrid or unpleasant in Blithe Spirit. In fact, it seems to be quite a pleasant sensation! So Coward knew there was no danger that anyone would be offended.”


Blithe Spirit is set in 1940s England where novelist Charles Condomine is researching the occult for his new book. He and his wife Ruth recruit local spiritualist, the eccentric and flighty Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance, with unexpected results. The spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira is summoned and has no intentions of leaving! To make things worse, no-one other than Charles can see her, leaving Ruth to worry for his sanity, and when Elvira makes plans for their reunion to be a permanent one, then everyone needs to be worried.


The Civic Players chairman Andrew Meadows explains the appeal of this perennial classic. “Blithe Spirit is absolutely classic Coward. It’s no wonder it’s lasted so long and gets continually revived. It’s got everything you expect from the Master – sparkling humour, witty lines, clever plot twists. And the parts are so well written. An important reason why we chose this play is that the actors can really get stuck in to the perfectly drawn characters. They’re all so individual and quirky, which is so much fun to perform.” Director Jay agrees – “As well as the wonderful characters, the plot itself is so unusual. It’s hopefully not giving too much away to say that it involves ghosts, which is unusual in itself on the stage. It’s handled with so much panache and lightness of touch, and it’s lovely to see how the situation unfolds.”


The Civic Players are having a lot of success currently with their period pieces. In fact, they haven’t done a play with a contemporary setting since 2021, although vice-chairman Rich Walters says this isn’t part of some elaborate plan – “It isn’t deliberate that we’re doing historical plays at the moment, it’s just the way the choices have fallen. Our one over-riding factor in choosing plays is, is it any good? If it’s a good script, with good characters for our actors to play, then we’ll do it! Period plays do have their own challenges, with regard to accurate costumes, props and suchlike, but it’s worth it for a play as iconic as Blithe Spirit.”


Blithe Spirit will be presented by The Civic Players at the Swan Theatre, Yeovil from May 29 to June 1 2024. Tickets are £12 each, with a special ‘Two for £20’ offer for the May 29 performance

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