Nicci Pennicott rights a wrong as she stages Noel Coward’s supernatural comedy Blithe Spirit with the Midhurst Players.
It’s a play Nicci has always wanted to return to, ever since being overlooked for a part as a school girl.
“I am not saying it has festered! But it has long been in my mind. And now I am directing it, it is even better because I am getting to look at all the parts.
“When I was at school, I was in love with that period, the Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence period, all that stuff. I read a lot about it and had a lot of books about it, and our school put Blithe Spirit on. I went along to audition, but I didn’t get a part. I was slightly annoyed. I wanted to be Elvira! But the teacher said ‘You do so much drama out of school that we wanted to give the other girls a chance.’”
Now, Nicci, at last, is in the thick of it, with performances running from Wednesday to Saturday, April 5-8 at the Southdowns Centre Memorial Hall in Midhurst (tickets on www.midhurstplayers.co.uk).
“With Noel Coward, you get the most wonderful witty dialogue. He makes the characters come to life, and with Downton Abbey and people like Julian Fellowes, I think there is a new interest again in that period, in the superficiality of the upper classes. More people are interested again, and, as I say, the dialogue is so clever. It changes with the characters. Elvira at one moment is having a tantrum, and then she is being very sexy. The relationship she has with Charles is a very sexy one.
“The key to it all is timing. It has got to be quick. The dialogue has got to be rapid. You can’t have the audience getting bored. And you have got to deliver it all in a very Coward way. I don’t mean overly-clipped accents, but the actors have got to speak well.
“And then you have got Charles who thinks he is something rather special. Charles thinks he is a wonderful writer, and he has got this big ego trip going of trying to use a real medium as fodder for his book.”
For the show, Nicci certainly isn’t encouraging her cast to look at the celebrated Margaret Rutherford film: “The play was so cut for the film. For the film, to have the action, they have lost so much of the dialogue, and I think it lost a lot of that sparkle it had. I love Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford, but the sparkle isn’t there, and I find it extraordinary that they changed the ending. I don’t think Noel Coward particularly liked what they did.
“It has really diluted the sparkle of the original play. A lot of the cast have passed the film around, but all the way through I have been saying ‘Don’t consider the film.’
“I have seen the play a few times on stage, but I didn’t see the Angela Lansbury take on it. I didn’t really want to see the Angela Lansbury show. I am not overly keen on actors who come on who are known from television and are applauded simply for coming on before they have even said a word.”
The first play Nicci directed for the Midhurst Players was Journey’s End three years ago.
“With Journey’s End, I was a bit more anxious because I had not worked with them before, but they were brilliant, and they are brilliant again. I gave them a very strict book down by March 1, but most of them were book down by mid-February. They are really good, and it is going very well.”
South Downs Centre Memorial Hall, North Street, Midhurst. Book your seat online at www.midhurstplayers.co.uk or call 01730 816478.
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