radio script review: BLITHE SPIRIT and FAITH HEALER

by Lynn on August 30, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, August 30, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM: Blithe Spirit  plays at the Stratford Festival until  October 20 and Faith Healer at the Shaw Festival until October 6.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday Morning, it’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn


Hi Phil, welcome back.


1)   So what treats do you have this week?


I’ve got two that deal with the spirit world of sorts.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward at the Stratford Festival, is about séances, speaking to the dead, and the dead come back to haunt you.

 And Faith Healer by Brian Friel at the Shaw Festival is about three people’s recollections of one of them who was a faith healer, who sometimes could heal people of their ills, but most times not. And how he affected the other two.


2)   Let’s start with the Master, Noël Coward and Blithe Spirit.


Noël Coward was called “The Master”. I’m not sure if he was the one who gave himself the name but it’s apt. He could write sophisticated comedies that were hilarious and soul-crushing dramas, in the same year. He zipped off some of his plays in mere days. Coward produced Private Lives in three days. And it’s perfect.

But to Blithe Spirit. Produced in the West End in 1941.

Charles Condomine is a successful novelist who lives in a village with his second wife Ruth. His first wife Elvira died years before of illness. Charles is doing research on the paranormal, and invites another couple over for a séance. He invites the local mystic, Madam Arcati, to conduct the séance but not telling her why. In a sense he’s studying her too.

All things go well initially. Madam Arcati has them all sit at a table and in the dim light asks if there is anyone out there in the ether who wants to talk to anyone at the table.  After some mysterious knocking there is some fuss and commotion and the séance ends. Every one thinks it didn’t work. Except it did. The séance conjured Elvira. Charles is stunned to see her and unfortunately he’s the only one.  When he tells Ruth about Elvira’s spirit or ghost being in the room, she doesn’t believe him. Tempers flair. When he shouts to Elvira to shut up and go, Ruth thinks he’s being rude to her. The audience thinks it’s hilarious.


3)   Comedy is a serious thing. The more serious the comedy, the funnier it is.


Exactly, and certainly here. You have to play it very seriously to sell the humour. Charles is furious and frightened that Elvira has come back because it disrupts his life, and she’s toying with him. He’s furious because Ruth is not giving him any support or sympathy. It’s interesting to see how Elvira, the first wife is so different from Ruth the second. Ruth is very prim, matter of fact, sophisticated but in a coolish sort of way. Elvira is more flighty, flirty, mischievous and funny.

And you certainly get a sense of the depth of the play because of the production.


4)   How so?


It’s directed by Brian Bedford, a consummate actor who knows his comedy; and he knows his Coward. He has directed his cast to never let up on the seriousness of this hilarious comedy. Sure they can assume that sophisticated aura, as they make their drinks and dress up for dinner  etc. and are catty about people.

 But when Charles sees Elvira it’s shocking to him, and certainly the way Ben Carlson plays Charles. Carlson is furious, biting and desperate for Ruth to see the apparition he’s seeing, and ragingly frustrated when she doesn’t.

 As Ruth, Sarah Topham is straight-backed, stubborn and without a trace of whimsy which is perfect because she’s such a contrast to Elvira.

 Brian Bedford has envisioned a wonderful image of Elvira. She is dressed in a long flowing greyish gown (Katherine Lubienski does the costumes); the skin is pale and as played by the ethereal Michelle Giroux, with her arm bent up and hand drooped down and swaying as she walks, it’s like watching an image move through mist. Fabulous image.

And finally as Madame Arcati, Seana McKenna is eccentric but matter of fact. She never plays up the humour of the woman but makes her real. When she realizes that Charles was observing her for a book she says with terrible hurt in her voice, “you were mocking me?” Devastating…you catch yourself on the lip of the laugh.

 An absolutely funny, sobering, serious comedy done to perfection by this company.


5)   And how does Faith Healer deal with the spirit world of sorts.


Faith Healer by Brian Friel.  He’s an Irish author who deals in stories of flawed people. The play is four separate monologues delivered by three people.

 They are Frank, the faith healer. Grace either his wife or mistress depending on who you ask. And Teddy their friend and Frank’s manager. They travelled all over the British Isles as Frank casts his spell on unsuspecting folks who came to see if he could heal their ills. Sometimes he got inspired and actually cured someone.

Sometimes he knew nothing was going to happen. One such time involved a group of friends who were staying in the same hotel as Frank and Co. were and dared him to cure their friend who was in a wheel chair. Frank waited while they fetched the man in the chair.

Frank, Grace and Teddy remember details that are slightly askew. Teddy remembers coming up with the phrase that advertised the show and the theme song.

Grace remembers it differently. Grace and Teddy separately remember a tragic event in Grace’s life and Frank suggests that it never happened at all. Grace and Teddy separately say that she was married to Frank and he says she was his mistress.


6) Where is the truth?


In a sense it’s in all of them and they are all haunted by it in their own say.  Frank is bluff.  Grace drinks and smokes to forget. And Teddy drinks beer for the same reason. And each truth is in each of the three characters because of the gifted actors playing them.

 As Frank, Jim Mezon is smooth talking, slowly paced. You are almost mesmerized by his voice and weaving of words. He looks respectable in his three piece brown suit, with shirt and tie. But you notice that his pant cuffs are very frayed. His shoes are unshined.  He’s almost like a hail fellow well met except you soon learn he conveniently doesn’t take any responsibility for any of his actions. It’s a fine performance by Mezon who makes Frank to be a charming loser who always has a quip to get him out of a tough spot.

Corrine Koslo plays Grace and she is heart-squeezing masterful. She has a tight smile that hides a multitude of sorrows. There is a crack in her voice. This is a woman struggling to hold on. She smokes. She drinks more than she smokes and she does both in abundance.

She is trying to forget a terrible point in her life. She is trying to live with her disappointment at Frank. She is trying to live period. Koslo gives a beautiful, nuanced performance.

 And as Teddy, Peter Krantz is all put on buoyancy. But you see the cracks in his veneer too. He loved both Frank and Grace, but perhaps he loved Frank a bit more he says, mournfully. He recalls that low point in Grace’s and his lives because of Frank and tries to hide his frustration. He drinks beer for the whole of his long monologue. He has already drunk three bottles of beer when we meet him. The empty bottles are on the floor by the large paper bag holding both the empties and the other full bottles of beer. Then he goes into the large paper bag for more bottles. As he empties them, he puts them back in the bag and hauls out more.

To get a sense of how much he drank, I think it would have been more effective if Director Craig Hall just had him stand all his empty beer bottles on the floor as he finished each one. I do like Hall’s careful, sensitive direction though.


7) I take it this is one of those plays that might be heavy going because of the nature of the story, but you are recommending it? Why?


I am recommending it. Friel is a beautiful, writer. His plays do look into the wounded heart but he takes that sorrow and illuminates their lives. His writing is richly poetic. And you are held by the simple, gripping storytelling. The production is spare but so rich in detail, emotion, and a beating heart.


Thanks Lynn. You can read Lynn’s Blog at

 Blithe Spirit plays at the Stratford Festival until October 20.

Faith Healer plays at the Shaw Festival until October 6.



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