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Mr Monkey sees Blithe Spirit at the Royal Exchange, 14th December

Mr Monkey was invited to the press night of the Royal Exchange Theatre's new production of Blithe Spirit by John Osborne, so he scampered into Manchester early in the evening of 14th December.

Blithe Spirit runs from December 5th to January 23rd 2010.

Mr Monkey looking at the German Christmas Market in St Anne's Square
Mr Monkey examining one of the Royal Exchange's Christmas trees
Last time Mr Monkey went to the Royal Exchange he'd arrived surrounded by fog. This time he had to dodge horribly damp raindrops as he crossed St Anne's Square. Because it's almost Christmas there was a German Christmas Market in the square and it was filled up with small stalls selling all sorts of German products, which almost made up for the rain.

Mr Monkey looking at the poster outside the theatre Mr Monkey checked the poster on the steps to make sure that his humans had the right place and day (which they did, of course) and scampered into the theatre. He collected his tickets from the press desk, and examined the Royal Exchange's Christmas decorations, which were so pleasingly understated that Miss Carol totally missed them.

Mr Monkey noticed that there was a new exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery, so he trotted up the stairs to see Made in the North. This is a collection of pictures taken by Paul Wolfgang Webster. All are portraits of people who have contributed to the vitality of the North of England, from Ken Dodd to Tony Wilson via Fred Dibnah (who is shown wearing a top hat that Mr Monkey rather envied).

Then it was time for the play, and Mr Monkey scampered into his seat.

Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit when he was staying in Portmeirion after his premises in London had been damaged by bombing. The 1941 premiere of the play was at Manchester's Opera House, so this Royal Exchange production of Blithe Spirit is a sort of coming home for it. It's been to a lot of other places in between, of course.

The action of the play takes place over a few days in 1931. Author Charles Condomine invites a local psychic, Madame Arcati, to his house to hold a seance. Neither he nor his guests actually believe in spiritualism, and he's just looking for material for his latest book; by the end of night he is being haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira. At first Charles finds it terribly entertaining to have his first wife making comments about his second wife, but then he finds out how far she'll go to stay with him.

Mr Monkey looking at the stage at the intervalMr Monkey loved the set of Blithe Spirit largely because the circular carpet and curved sofa and chairs, all in muted creams and beiges reminded him a lot of one of his favourite rooms at Eltham Palace.

Annette Badland, as Madame Arcati, dominated most of the scenes she's in, scampering around stealing sandwiches and unsettling the major characters by being slightly shorter than them. She's also the only person who shows any sympathy for the ghosts, and Mr Monkey sniffed slightly during the scene where she hugged Elvira. Oddly, Charles claimed he couldn't touch Elvira's ghost, even though Madame Arcati could, and the ghost was able to move vases, switch a gramophone on, and generally create physical mayhem. Mr Monkey suspects that Mr Coward hadn't thought some aspects of the ghostly world through.

Nelly Harker's Elvira was suitably unpleasant and empty headed, swinging between dramatic declarations of undying love (or hate) for Charles and childishly tormenting Ruth.

As Ruth, Suranne Jones held Mr Monkey's attention as she displayed justifiable anger about the whole situation and yet was strong willed enough to take action to rectify things.

Milo Twomey gave a thoroughly insensitive, selfish and annoyingly jolly Charles. Probably not the most sought after attributes in a husband.

Mr Monkey leaving by the Cross Street exit of the theatre Katie West was effective as Edith the maid, surprising Mr Monkey with how fast she could run on such a small stage. Peter Temple and Wendy Nottingham were good as Doctor and Mrs Bradman, and appeared to be carrying on arguments that started off stage. Mr Monkey thinks it must be difficult playing characters who don't even have first names.

Mr Monkey was a little worried by the way that, on some occassions, actors stood oddly, hands by their sides, when delivering lines. Charles seemed to be rather prone to this. On the way home on the train Mr Monkey suddenly realised that in the original production everyone would have been smoking, and would have something to do with their hands. Certainly they seemed happier in the first act when they had martinis to hold. That said, he throughly enjoyed the whole production.

After the play reached an unexpectedly explosive climax, Mr Monkey left the theatre through the doors onto Cross Street, purely for the simple pleasure of seeing the name of the theatre written backwards. Obviously, it looks more sensible if you're on Cross Street going in to the theatre.

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