28 July 2017, Aubyn Live Theatre, Hastings
As I parked up behind a healthy row of cars, a flutter of excitement came over me. I had driven past Aubyn Live Theatre hundreds of times, regularly seeing the sign change as performances came and went, but this was my first tentative step into the world of amateur dramatics. Aubyn Live Theatre was presenting Noel Coward’s comic play Blithe Spirit, which had first earned its innings in London’s West End, becoming one of its longest running shows, and on Broadway, and finding it here, two minutes from my front door, was too good to miss.
I made my way into the small converted church where I was welcomed by Ryan Campbell, the enthusiastic and friendly front of house. He directed me through a set of doors to the theatre – on the chilly side but intimate, with seating arranged around circular tables. People of different ages were milling about, chatting and laughing – they seemed ‘regulars’ to this type of occasion. Ryan handed me a sheet of paper. “For the interval, just put a tick next to your selections,” he said. The cups on the table became apparent: tea, coffee, crackers and cheese, chocolate cake. The lights dimmed.
Directed by Sarah Rogers, Blithe Spirit is a feisty play, which personifies the human condition of emotion, conflict and mortality. Coward cleverly exposes these through an unusual love triangle. Frustrated novelist and sceptic Charles Condomine, seeking material for his new book, invites vivacious medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati to conduct a séance. Unwittingly, Condomine’s mischievous and jealous dead first wife, Elvira, is summoned from the afterlife. This begins a witty and highly amusing interplay of verbal jousting between Charles, Elvira and his well-mannered but prudish second wife, Ruth.
Largely character driven, the success of Blithe Spirit is heavily dependent on the performers’ ability to embody the roles. The script, which is both musically rapid and acoustically pleasurable, needs to be delivered with brilliant fluency, yet still appear to be spontaneous. I was not disappointed. The cast provided a sophisticated, passionate and convincing enactment, with very few omissions.
Being so close to the performers, I felt I was in the Condomines’ living room. I could see every facial expression, and literally feel the roller coaster of emotions. The audience reacted with laughs, sighs, large in-takes of breath and the occasional “Oh dear!” or “Good heavens!”
As an amateur drama ‘newbie’ I cannot compare the skill of these performers with other theatre groups within Hawke’s Bay. But I came away feeling I had notched up a new experience and I am hungry to taste more. If it’s a winter’s night when I visit Aubyn Live Theatre again, I will take an extra layer – but aside from the chill, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Blithe Spirit is on at Aubyn Live Theatre until 5 August.