In the spirit of the times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 1995, 12:00am

IS there anyone there? One rap for yes; two raps for no. It's all the medium Madame Arcati needs to say to reduce author Charles Condomine's life to ruins: pursued by one wife from beyond the grave and harried by another on this side of the River Styx.

Derek Nimmo's travelling players present Noel Coward's hardy annual, Blithe Spirit without fuss, with great good humour and inimitable charm in the last Hilton show before the hotel itself goes to meet its maker, or rather wrecker.

Condomine, played rather rakishly by David Yelland, holds a seance with his second wife Ruth (Celia Bannerman), Madame Arcati, and Bradman, the local doctor, and his wife.

The happy medium summons up Condomine's first wife, the teasing, flirtatious Elvira (Jenny Funnell), dead seven years and who happened to be playing backgammon on the Other Side with Genghis Khan when the call came.

Even before Elvira's reappearance - which, as it happens, is only to Condomine - we know that Ruth is jealous of her husband's first wife. She envies the physical attractions she held for Condomine. When Ruth learns of the ghostly presence, she is even more nonplussed by Elvira's memory.

And so it goes. Condomine is engaged by his old lover and enraged by his current inamorata. And here the two worlds collide.

Peggy Mount as Madame Arcati did not even need to be on stage before her warm presence invaded the theatre. Then she bestrode the stage like a character actress of the first order, deftly riding over first-night fluffs with asides, intonations and facial gymnastics that thrilled the audience.

It may not be polite to draw attention to a lady's age, but it would be remiss not to praise Miss Mount's stamina and vigour: she was unstinting in that brief encounter on the stage.

Celia Bannerman and Jenny Funnell were excellent foils, making one deeply sorry for the hounded Condomine. And David Yelland, handsome and debonair, was all one might expect of a Coward protagonist.

Dinner theatre may not be everybody's four-course meal but this light-handed production featuring an array of West End talent is a must see.

Blithe Spirit, directed by John David, The Hilton Playhouse, March 8-18.