Entertainment & Arts

Angela Lansbury 'sparkling' in Blithe Spirit

Angela Lansbury, Charles Edwards, Janie Dee, Serena Evans and Simon Jones in Blithe Spirit Image copyright johan persson

Angela Lansbury's return to the West End stage in Blithe Spirit has been lavished with praise by the critics.

The 88-year-old actress, who plays eccentric medium Madame Arcati, drew a massive round of applause when she arrived on stage on Tuesday's opening night at the Gielgud Theatre.

It is Dame Angela's first appearance on the London stage for nearly 40 years.

In his five star review of Noel Coward's comedy, Charles Spencer said Dame Angela was "on sparkling form".

"Thirty-five years ago I remember being bowled over by Lansbury's performance as Mrs Lovett in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd on Broadway. She brings a similar energy and high definition wit to Madame Arcati," he wrote.

"Her voice swoops and soars with superb grandeur and her extraordinary dance routine, in which she seems physically to vibrate as she goes into a trance, is a wonder to behold."

He concluded: "This is a tour de force that will glow warmly in the memory of all who see it."

The Independent's Paul Taylor said: "With her red Princess Leia-style coiffure and clashing arty-meets-hearty wardrobe, Lansbury's Madame A is a quivering, deliciously erratic blend of bohemian lady novelist and girl guide."

His four star review continued: "It's the way, though, that she emphasises the medium's batty and strangely admirable self-belief that makes her portrayal so funny and endearing."

Reviews also noted strong performances from other members of the cast, including Charles Edwards, Simon Jones, Janie Dee and Jemima Rooper, who plays Elvira, the ghost.

In The Guardian, Michael Billington thought that Dame Angela's presence had "a faintly distorting effect".

But he noted that it was "Lansbury the audience has come to see and she gives good value".

'Amazing precision'

"When going into a trance, Lansbury careers around the stage like a bird about to take wing. And she emits little gurgles of delight when the ghostly Elvira blows draughts of air into her face.

"Even if Lansbury's voice seems on a different level from that of her colleagues, it is a perfectly credible performance."

He said the real star of the show, however, was Charles Edwards, as the novelist haunted by his late wife.

The Daily Mail gave the play five stars, describing Dame Angela's performance as "perfect... makes it look effortless".

Quentin Letts concluded: "Even without Dame Angela, and despite the steep ticket prices, this would be a top-class show. With her, it is a West End event."

The Times [subscription required] gave the play a decidedly average three stars, although it reserved its criticism for the play itself, describing it as being "fun" in parts but "with plenty of padding, too".

Dominic Maxwell said Dame Angela "gave a masterclass in character comedy... if I remain less than dotty about the play, Lansbury's amazing precision and vim made me delighted to have seen it again."

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