Blithe Spirit review: Jennifer Saunders is hysterically funny as one of drama’s greatest comic creations

As the psychic Madame Arcati in this marvellous production, Saunders channels AbFab’s Edina – only with more intrepidity 

Paul Taylor
Wednesday 11 March 2020 09:00
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Saunders as unapologetically eccentric Arcati, with Geoffrey Streatfeild as Charles Condomine, Emma Naomi as Elvira, left, and Lisa Dillon as Ruth
Saunders as unapologetically eccentric Arcati, with Geoffrey Streatfeild as Charles Condomine, Emma Naomi as Elvira, left, and Lisa Dillon as Ruth

★★★★★

In this inspired revival of Noel Coward’s comedy, Jennifer Saunders socks us with a hysterically funny performance as Madame Arcati, the psychic invited round to supper for what she thinks are convivial, neighbourly reasons. In fact, it is a ruse, designed so that she can be observed performing a seance by Charles Condomine (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a smug novelist who is doing research on the “tricks of the trade” for his latest work-in-progress. At a book signing, I would unhesitatingly join the queue for one of the wonderfully wayward-sounding children’s books that Madame Arcati writes in her ectoplasm-free spare time, rather than for a full set of Condomine’s romantic efforts.

The uptight, class-constipated crew of fellow diners get a great deal more than they had bargained for (the joke is more on them than Arcati). The delicious results are calibrated with a deadly droll but upbeat eye for the self-deceptions of the British class system in Richard Eyre’s zestfully canny revival.

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