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Sunday, 5 March 2017

‘Sincerest Laughter with Some Pain’

It must be about 45 years since I watched David Lean’s film version of Blithe Spirit on TV.

I was in my late teens and habitually devoured omnibus editions of writers ranging from Noel Coward to O. Henry and on to Chaim Potok (!) with one eye on the page and the other on the television screen, somehow swallowing everything at a gulp. How I managed that, I cannot now comprehend.

Never mind! Of course, my abiding memory of Coward’s dig at the supernatural is of the wildly wacky Margaret Rutherford as trance medium Madame Arcati who most definitely made the role – perhaps the entire play - her own.

Blithe Spirit ProgrammeWell, very nearly. It now also belongs at least in part to Bertha Cafrey, a long-serving Haifa English Theatre actor/director who has just helped to lead a highly polished cast through Coward’s much loved comedy. She achieved this  despite the murder in January of her and her husband, Igal’s son, Guy in a terrorist attack.

“Be yourself. Do your own thing. Have the courage of your convictions”, she advises in her biographical programme note.

I think Coward would have loved that; her professionalism and the way this show’s director, Betsy Lewis Yizraeli with the entire cast and backstage crew mastered such a lengthy, literate script, invoking, not simply the shade of a British upper middle-class era long past, but of a civilised world where matters of the spirit reigned supreme while everything was otherwise earthbound and ugly.

* The title for this piece, like that of the play, comes from Shelley’s  To a Skylark.

© Natalie Wood (03 March 2017)

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