Angela Lansbury as Madam Arcati in "Blithe Spirit" at the National Theatre.
Angela Lansbury as Madam Arcati in "Blithe Spirit" at the National Theatre.

Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” – now on stage at the National Theatre – is sharp-witted, fast-paced drawing room farce that still manages to offer a satisfying evening of theater more than 70 years after it was first staged.

Combine the well-written material with the outstanding performance of legendary Angela Lansbury and this production, which has played to sold out audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, is near perfection.

Lansbury, who at 89 is still a commanding stage presence, plays the role of Madam Arcati, an eccentric English villager who fancies herself a gifted medium who may or may not have the ability to commune with departed spirits.

She is invited to the home of Charles and Ruth Condomine (played by the excellent Charles Edward and Charlotte Parry) to conduct an after dinner séance for the amusement of the couple and their guests. The parlor game goes awry when Madam Arcati accidently conjures the spirit of Charles’s first wife Elvira who died seven years earlier.

The late Mrs. Condomine and the current Mrs. Condomine do not relish sharing a husband, despite Mr. Condomine’s initial glee at having two wives. High spirited high jinks ensue as Madam Arcati is summoned back to the Condomine cottage to banish the ghost. Sharp-witted banter and a smidge of slapstick are at the core of the hilarity the play provides.

Each member of the small but talented cast does an excellent job in his or her role. But it is Lansbury who the audience comes to see, and it is Lansbury who steals the show with her droll delivery and her charming physical comedy.

Landsbury plays the martini-guzzling spiritualist with a spot on performance that shows why audiences still flock to see her more than 70 years after she began her show business career. The actress could simply stand on the stage and the audience would love her, but she gives her all. Her performance is truly worthy of the rousing standing ovation offered her by the audience at the end of the nearly three-hour play.

“Blithe Spirit” is fun entertainment for adults and teens. There are a couple of mild expletives and several subtle double entendres, but the play was written in 1941, so the harshness and vulgarity of many modern stage productions are absent.

The play continues at the National Theater through March 29. Make an effort to see “Blithe Spirit” and the incomparable Angela Lansbury. It will raise your spirits.  For tickets, call 800-514-3849 or visit http://thenationaldc.org/events/blithe-spirit/N