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Laughing through the decades

Bangkok Community Theatre conjures up mirth in 'Blithe Spirit'

One of the most consistently successful plays over the past 70 years is undoubtedly Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit". Its Thai adaptation ,"Theung Pen Phi Phi Ko Huang", staged almost 30 years ago at the Monthienthong Theatre was a mega-hit, as was the more recent New Theatre Society's "Nang Nak: The Museum", in which Coward's play was masterfully blended with the "Mae Nak Phra Khanong" tale.

Now "Blithe Spirit" is getting another airing, courtesy of Bangkok Community Theatre, Thailand's longest running English-language theatre company.

Director Mark Sobels says he's loved the play since he was a child. "I could see it at the British Club and I thought we could cast it well, which we have. I believed we'd all have great fun getting it together! I know I've had a ball these past 12 months."

Despite being written in the middle of World War II, there's no mention of the war at all, Sobels says. "When I read it again last year, my immediate reaction was that it's about love, romantic love, sexual attraction and where all that leads, about letting go, about marriage. And it's very funny."

Commenting on the play's popularity throughout these seven decades, Sobels points out that love, fidelity and even life after death are subjects audiences love when they are dealt with in a funny, light-hearted way. "The energetic, eccentric and loveable medium Madame Arcati is a universal character who, Coward said, 'takes over the play'. To some she is the play. Angela Lansbury won a Tony Award as recently as 2009 for this role playing opposite Rupert Everett. For others, the main draw is the two young sexy wives."

The troupe has decided to stage "Blithe Spirit" as a dinner theatre.

"Dinner theatre is a fine tradition that Bangkok Community Theatre and the British Club choose to celebrate indulgently from time to time. The play is suited to dinner theatre as it's light, bright and funny. Wonderful food and a wonderful play together. It makes for a happy night out," Sobels says.

"The play affords splendid opportunity for lavish costuming and set design. We've done very well in this regard. Because of my background in opera, I'm always obsessed with the quality of production values. The costumes are gorgeous: lovely ladies with padded shoulders, and diaphanous negligees, gentlemen in tuxedoes mixing cocktails and a comely comedic maid in an outfit of organza … they're all there."

He also promises that this production will surprise. "The magic effects are delightful and the romantic set is attractive and interesting.

"And the words! What marvellous words Coward has written in this play. Coward aficionados can even have fun spotting extra lines I’ve inserted from another Coward play."

Apart from these minor additions, Sobels hasn't updated the time or change the setting of the play because, he says, "Reality is addressed through the heightened reality of another time and place. All Coward’s plays are set in their own world, this one more so than any.

"We have a great mix of talented younger and older actors. The bicycle-riding Madame Arcati who conjures up the ghost as she polishes her crystal ball is played by Bonnie Zellerbach. Also well known to TV audiences in Thailand, she may just possibly be giving the performance of her Bangkok stage career. The competent cast also includes Paul Robere, Louise Truslow, Gary Norman, Natasha Cheung, Lucy Ellwood-Russell and Jenny Alexander."



GHOSTLY GAGS

"Blithe Spirit" will be performed at the British Club on Silom Soi 18 from Thursday to Saturday and from March 21 to 23 at 7.30pm.

Tickets with dinner included are Bt1,200. For reservations, e-mail bct.th.org@gmail.com or call (087) 529 3188.

Student previews are being staged tomorrow and Wednesday (no dinner).

Find out more at www.BCT-TH.org.




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