Liam Rudden: Angela is spirited performer at 88

Angela Lansbury. Picture: Comp
Angela Lansbury. Picture: Comp
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IT’S hard to explain, but any production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit tends to find its way to the top of my must-see list.

I blame Margaret Rutherford, her hilariously observed turn as Madam Arcati in the 1945 movie version starring Rex Harrison is one of my cinematic guilty pleasures.

Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. Pic: Comp

Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. Pic: Comp

So it was always on the cards I’d accept a press invite to see Murder She Wrote star Dame Angela Lansbury play the same role on London’s West End.

The story is simple: When novelist Charles Condomine invites eccentric medium Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, to gather material for his next book, he finds himself haunted by his first wife, Elvira.

First staged in 1941, the current West End production is a remount of the 2009 Broadway run.

Sitting in the Gielgud Theatre, there was little doubt it was Lansbury that people had come to see - spontaneous applause greeting her every entrance and exit.

That said, Rutherford is a hard act to follow. Her Arcati set the bar high - one that many have failed to reach.

Someone who could and did match her performance was the late Peggy Mount. Vastly different, she gave a masterclass in physical comedy.

Lansbury matches both line for line.... almost. At 88 years old, the odd-fluffed response is forgiven, however - her sheer force of character quite mesmerising.

With laugh-out-loud comic physicality of which Mount would have been proud, whispers of Rutherford and Jessica Fletcher (the character that made her a household name) materialise briefly from time to time, much to everyone’s delight.

A spontaneous standing ovation at the end confirms that Lansbury does indeed do more than deliver. If you find yourself in London, this is one Blithe Spirit worth seeing.