When do you get to be as wacky as you want in front of people who paid to be there, and the wackier you are, the happier it makes them? That’s what it was like to play Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and one of the reasons it was some of the best fun I’ve ever had. I lead a pleasant, but rather uneventful life, so this was my chance to really cut loose.
Madame Arcati is a highly eccentric medium, invited to give a séance at the home of a novelist, so he can do research for his new book. During the séance, she inadvertently raises the ghost of the novelist’s late wife, much to the displeasure of his current wife. Mayhem ensues, and everyone in the cast makes the most of it.
While rather inept as a medium, Madame Arcati is utterly genuine, believing completely in what she’s doing. It’s why she does such crazy things, and why she’s such fun. The role is surprisingly physical. Twice I had to throw myself screaming onto the floor (having fallen into a trance, of course) and once jump up onto a footstool while calling forth spirits.
Now, I’ve been a musical performer since I was in my twenties, so doing a straight play at 70 was a fairly new challenge. In musicals, the songs take up a lot of time, meaning there’s less dialogue to learn. When I first got the script of Blithe Spirit, I had two thoughts, “Oh great! Look at all this fun dialogue!” and “Oh my gosh! How can my old brain learn all this dialogue?” Every day for weeks before rehearsals, I recited lines while I walked the dog. (The neighbours probably thought I’d gone mad.) Noel Coward’s dialogue is so witty, the lines need to fall from the actors’ mouths like a continuous string of pearls, and that was my goal.
I loved working with my fellow performers. By opening night, we were a close-knit team, enjoying the play and enjoying each other. The physical space at the Firehall Theatre definitely helps to foster that closeness. Backstage is only about four feet deep. It’s rather dark, of course, and filled with props tables, costumes on hooks for quick changes, and just enough room to walk past the few chairs where offstage actors are sitting. Yup, it’s chummy!
I think playing Madame Arcati brought out in me a freedom and a silliness that I hadn’t previously allowed. She has enriched my life ever since, and I would play her again in a heartbeat. I’m so thankful to Northumberland Players for giving me the opportunity to have so much fun.