The Maskers' Studio Theatre

23rd - 28th October 2023

Friday performance at 8pm, other performances at 7:30pm.

This amateur production of “Blithe Spirit” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.


The Reviews

In Common

23 October 2023

The Maskers maintain their usual high standards with their latest production. Blithe Spirit is a 1941 comic play by Noel Coward, described by the author as “an improbable farce” which imagines what may happen if we could contact the spiritual world. This experiment with the supernatural quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet who says to Horatio “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

Coward’s play concerns the novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium Madame Arcati to his house in Kent to conduct a seance.He is hoping to research material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his wilful first wife, Elvira. After the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.

The play opened in London in 1941 and ran for 1,997 performances until 1946, setting a new record for a non-musical play. This was only later surpassed by the Mousetrap in 1957.

The Times considered the play the equal of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. With Hay Fever and Private Lives, Blithe Spirit is one of Coward’s indisputable comic masterpieces.

The play has withstood the test of time with a film made in 1945 and another film version in 2020. Coward directed a musical adaptation, High Spirits, on Broadway and in the West End in 1964.

Don’t miss this production at Shirley’s own intimate studio theatre which is an absolute hidden gem near Shirley High Street. If you haven’t yet visited then it’s about time you did.

Kate Grundy-Garcia was perfect as Ruth, the bossy second wife. The role of Madame Arcati demands a standout over the top performance and this was superbly delivered by Jane Russell. Katy de Haviland really captures the mischievous first wife Elvira as she toys with husband Charles. This role is played by the experienced Jonathan Barney-Marmont who has two wives to keep happy. Maddy Cope, Duncan Randall and Sue Dashper are all very effective in their supporting roles.

A particular well done to the production team who made tables levitate, curtains blow and vases smash to the ground and play the classic Irving Berlin 1926 song Always which is central to the plot.

The title of the play is a line taken from Shelley’s poem To a Skylark, “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!”

I say Hail to the Maskers! The play, directed by Maskers stalwart Philip de Grouchy, runs until Saturday 28th October.

- Martin Brisland


23 October 2023

Written in less than two weeks at the height of the Blitz, ‘Blithe Spirit’ was Noel Coward’s attempt to cheer up the beleaguered British public. It did much more than that, going on to notch up a record-breaking 1,997 performances in the West End and becoming one of the best-loved comedies of all time.

For those few unfortunates unfamiliar with the plot it goes like this: as research for his latest novel, author Charles Condomine invites a spiritualist – Madame Arcati – to conduct a séance at one of his dinner parties. Unfortunately, she only succeeds in summoning the ghost of Charles’ deceased first wife Elvira, who proceeds to make things very awkward for him and his current wife Ruth.

The play bristles with some of Coward’s wittiest exchanges, such as the moment when Charles – who is firmly in the doghouse and trying to make awkward conversation – asks Ruth whether there is anything interesting in ‘The Times’ and is met with the acid riposte “Don’t be silly, Charles”. I liked the added reference to Hythe in this exchange.

Such sophisticated, expertly-crafted dialogue works so well when delivered in a clipped, precise way. Kate Grundy-Garcia did this to perfection. Her diction, delivery and timing were a joy to behold (and hear), making her perfect for the relentlessly logical and rather domineering Ruth. The opening Act 2 Scene between Ruth and Madame Arcarti and subsequently Mrs Bradburn was excellent

At her side, Jonathan Barney-Marmont, a languid, bitter and selfish Charles, had not just the correct look and bearing, but also brought a befuddled exasperation to the role, particularly in the farcical scenes when Charles is speaking to the ghostly Elvira (who can’t be seen by Ruth) and Ruth thinks he’s talking to her: his self-belief in his being always right struck just the right note.

Duncan Randall and Sue Dashper made a charming Doctor and Mrs Bradman, the former bringing an appealing bluffness to his role while the latter was incredibly natural with tone and riposte; it was clear the two had a very loving relationship which came across so well, a marked contrast to the three other “married” characters.

In the small role but pivotal in the plot (no spoilers) Maddy Cope played Edith the maid with great conviction making the most of her limited time on stage.

As with Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, in any production of ‘Blithe Spirit’ the spotlight inevitably falls on Madame Arcati. Like the fearsome Lady B, this is one of the great comic roles in theatre and a challenge for any actress. So, all praise to Jane Russell for staying just the right side of eccentric in exhibiting a real person. Her presence on stage and inter-action with those around her was perfect; I would almost go as far to say she was born to play this role such was her acute understanding belief of the character rather than eccentric flim-flam for the sake of it. As previously mentioned, her Opening Act 2 scene showed this superbly: this was no pretend “hurt”: this was an assault on her character and the responses were wonderfully navigated and pitched. Her diction and sense of being comfortable in her own skin shone through.

Katy De Haviland brought out a rather bored and disgruntled Elvira which fitted perfectly into this production. I rather liked the wrinkling of the nose at certain points in her sheer delight at her meddling. Her scene with Charles revealing each other’s affairs when she was alive was very well presented.

The set was brilliant: audience was heard to exclaim delight upon walking through the doors: it’s design and use of the space (which I always enjoy seeing how it is used) had clearly been well thought about and the smashing ornaments and billowing net curtains was just at the right level. The technical team and the flickering lighting brought a comfortable ambience: you really thought you were eaves-dropping into their living room. A good call to abandon the cigarette and cigar use too. You can tell this a definite team effort.

Director Philip De Grouchy has alluded to the challenge of learning a beautifully composed yet verbose script in a limited time as part of the programme notes. First night nerves meant the pace was a little quick and with some over-speaking. I don’t often suggest a slowing down but perhaps a more savouring of the lilt of the words will develop as the week goes on.

He has brought delight to an already delightful play and should poor himself and the whole team, a very dry Martini. The show runs nightly until Saturday 28th October.

- David A Putley

An Improbable Farce

360 degree image kindly provided by J.Masson

A writer & a medium summon up a ghost...
and much laughter!

Blithe Spirit is set in the house of writer Charles Condomine and wife Ruth. He invites Madame Arcati to hold a seance along with friends for inspiration as he's writing a book. Unwittingly the ghost of his first wife Elvira is summoned up. Only Charles can see and hear her which causes all kinds of mischief between the ghostly wife and Ruth the present wife. Accidently Ruth is killed off in a car accident, now presenting Charles with two ghostly wives!

What's he going to do?

Will Madame Arcati help return Ruth and Elvira to the other side?

This wonderful English classic by Noël Coward brings an evening of joy with much laughter.

You could pop a garlic in your pocket just incase!

Director & Cast

The Director of this production is Philip de Grouchy
A member of the Society since the early 1970s, Philip has played a large variety of parts in every kind of show; each time, for some reason, playing an older character than before! In the last few years, he has appeared as: Justice Robert Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, Lou in Four Weddings and an Elvis, Mark in Yards Apart and in the Christmas Show, A Box of Delights. He also directed the last Christmas Show, Christmas with The Cratchits.

Edith (the maid) is played by Maddy Cope
Maddy has recently joined Maskers. She has been in a multitude of shows and also has experience working behind the scenes. She helped with tech for The Producers, at the Theatre Royal, Winchester, last November. She was last seen as the violently insane Bertha, in Jane Eyre.

Ruth Condomine (Charles' current wife) is played by Kate Grundy-Garcia
Kate is enjoying playing the bossy Ruth, who henpecks her husband hilariously in this wonderful 1930s comedy. Of course, today she would not be deemed bossy or henpecking, just assertive and determined - and with good reason, as her husband, Charles, is fraternising with a rather attractive spirit!
Kate has been a Masker for many years, performing most recently in Antigone, Comfort Me with Apples and Sharks in the Custard.

Charles Condomine (a writer) is played by Jonathan Barney-Marmont
Jonathan has been a member of many societies over the years and involved with many productions for Maskers, including playing Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis for which he won Best Actor in a Drama in The Southern Evening Echo’s Curtain Call Awards.
You may also spot Jonathan on your television in a TV advert for Wren’s Kitchens or in programmes such as World’s Greatest Palaces, Britain’s Most Evil Killers, and a feature film due to be aired later this year.

Dr George Bradman is played by Duncan Randall
Duncan started as a character actor at primary school. He has been involved in various community theatre groups. On moving to the south coast, he joined Titchfield Festival Theatre (TFT), creating roles such as: Bri in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Enobarbus (Anthony and Cleopatra), Goldberg (The Birthday Party) and the Landlord in Jim Cartwright’s Two. Duncan joined the Maskers for The Three Musketeers in 2022 playing Athos, amongst others, and was recently in The Picture of Dorian Gray. For Gormenghast, he created the grumpy Barquentine - no change there! Duncan’s latest Maskers’ role was in Time and Tide..., where he played King Knut (among others). Typecast again!

Mrs. Violet Bradman (Doctor Bradman's wife) is played by Sue Dashper
During Sue’s time in Maskers, she has been involved in a variety of productions including: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Out of Focus, Contractions and Metamorphosis in the Studio, and Sitting Pretty and An Italian Straw Hat at the Nuffield Theatre. Sue has appeared in many open-air productions, including our recent production of Jane Eyre. Previous outdoor performances were in Much Ado About Nothing, Don Quixote, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Jungle Book, Anne Boleyn, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night.

Madame Arcati (an eccentric medium) is played by Jane Russell
This will be Jane’s sixth performance with Maskers, including the last four Christmas productions – her favourite being the role of Mary in The Flint Street Nativity. She also channelled her inner ‘Gavin and Stacey’ for Maskers, playing Welsh cleaner Mair in Sharks in the Custard. Jane has performed in numerous productions with RAODS and EOMS and most recently directed the sell-out outdoor production for RAODS of Swallows and Amazons.
Jane is delighted to be playing Madame Arcati – one of those truly iconic female roles - and she very much hopes you enjoy the show.

Elvira (Charles' deceased first wife) is played by Katy De Haviland
Katy joined Maskers earlier this year. Having begun acting as a child, she went on to study Drama and Performing Arts at college, before joining a local theatre company in the Midlands. After a 20-year break from the stage and returning to the south, she's looking forward to playing the role of Elvira.

Creative Team

Production Manager
Maria McKay
Stage Manager
Donald Coe
Set Design
Clive Weeks
Set Construction
Clive Weeks, Brian Stansbridge, Roy Romsey, Donald Coe, Andy Burrows, Martyn Welch, & Martin Caveney
Set Painting
Hazel Burrows, Zoe Harris, Donald Coe, Maria McKay, Kathryn Salmon, Jill Desborough, Rob Iliffe, & Clive Weeks
Lighting Design
Clive Weeks
Special Effects
Clive Weeks, Donald Coe, Madeline Cope, Martyn Welch
Sound Design
Jamie McCarthy
Lighting & Sound Operators
Maria McKay, Kathryn Salmon, Simon White
Wardrobe & Costumes
Chris Baker & Hazel Burrows
Alison Tebbutt
Set Dressing
Angela Stansbridge & Hazel Burrows

Ticket Information

Tickets £14

No concessions

Customers are requested to arrive promptly as late comers cannot be admitted.

On arrival at the Masker’s Studio

  • Please give your name (or the name the tickets were booked under) to our Box Office receptionist, and they will confirm your booking.
  • If you have pre-ordered a programme you will be given it on arrival. Programmes will also be available for purchase from a FOH member.
  • For the safety of all our audience members and staff are still operating some Covid risk reduction actions.  Please use the hand sanitising stations on arrival.  We will also be increasing the fresh air circulating throughout the venue.
  • Wearing of face coverings is optional.
  • Our bar will be open for purchases of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  We would encourage you to pre-order your interval drinks, to assist our bar staff and reduce crowding at the bar.
  • We are now able to take, and prefer, card payments but can also take cash.

During your visit

  • A stairlift and disabled toilet facilities are available.
  • Hand sanitiser will be available for your use at various points around the theatre building.
  • We have installed an extra extractor fan to vent studio air to the outside pulling fresh air in from the other side of the building.
  • Where possible windows will also remain open.  This may make the venue cooler than you are used to, so please be prepared.
  • Enhanced cleaning will take place throughout the venue before, and after the performance.
  • The taking of photographs or videos whilst the show is on is not permitted.

Exiting the building/event at the end of the performance

  • When leaving, please do not crowd the stairwell and allow everyone to leave easily and quickly.
  • As you go down the alleyway, please take extra care and keep to the marked footpath as the road is very uneven.
  • Please take any rubbish with you or leave it in the bins provided.

What if I have specific access needs?

  • The stair chair lift is available and our FOH staff will assist you should you need to use it.
  • Any other requirements may be discussed with our Box Office manager in advance of your arrival.

What happens if a show is cancelled?

  • If we are required to cancel a performance, we will offer you tickets for an alternative performance.

Poster, Flyer & Programme

For the Maskers

Technical Manager:- Jamie McCarthy;   Lighting Consultant:- Clive Weeks;   Sound Consultant:- Jamie McCarthy;   Marketing Team:- Angela Stansbridge, Clive Weeks, Robert Osborne, Meri Mackney, Paul Baker;   Front of House & Box Office Manager:- Chris Baker;   Photographer:- Clive Weeks;   Bar Manager:- Meri Mackney
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Shirley's own LOCAL theatre!

Maskers Theatre Company
Off Emsworth Road
SO15 3LX

Registered Charity 900067

Established 1968

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