It’s a part to die for – the wickedly seductive Elvira in Noel Coward’s perennial classic, Blithe Spirit – and Courtney Act is about to make her theatre debut playing it. 

“It’s such an honour. It just feels like a next step in my career, which is lovely!” says Act. 

Casting Act as Elvira was a burst of inspiration that came to director Paige Rattray while  watching Courtney Act’s One Plus One  on the ABC. Act joins a cast of theatre eminence including Matt Day, Nancy Denis, Bessie Holland, Tracy Mann, Megan Wilding, and Brigid Zengeni.

Drag Matryoshka Doll

 

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“Watching everyone in rehearsals, just all of us workshopping it together, and getting to watch just everyone’s process and the offers that they make, it’s been really empowering because it’s such a supportive group of people,” says Act.  

Courtney Act is the sometimes blithe, always spirited alter-ego of Shane Jenek, though she has a life of her own. So, Janek is playing Act playing Elvira; it’s a sort of drag matryoshka doll type thing.  

Coward’s frenetic, far-fetched farce is one of the highlights of this year’s Sydney Theatre Company program. The play premiered on the West End in 1941, receiving rave reviews. It has since been re-imagined countless times for stage and screen. This new STC production promises to be among the most fluidly innovative. 

In brief: Charles Condemine (Matt Day) is a novelist with writer’s block. Hoping to be get some inspiration, he calls on a popular medium, Madam Arcati (Brigid Zengeni) to hold a séance in his home. The séance is attended by Charles, his second wife, Ruth (Bessie Holland) and several sceptical friends. Madam Arcati inadvertently triggers Charles’ seven-years-dead, petulant first wife, Elvira who sets all Hell loose. 

“The play is ridiculous!” says Act. “Like it’s hysterically funny and absurd and then we’ve added these layers and layers of texture.” 

Breathing New Life Into Elvira

 

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There have been no changes to the original script, but they’ve added nuance through gestures. “It’s actually quite fascinating just how much extra is added to the dialogue alone by the unspoken stuff.”

There are also lots of production quirks and surprises, including elements of magic care of star illusionist, Adam Mada, who was the magic consultant on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Act will breath new life into Elvira, a character not too far removed from her own personality. 

“She’s very flirty. She’s described as having a ‘gay charm’,” laughs Act. “But also when she doesn’t get her way she can become very acidic.”

There’s a lot of anticipation around Blithe Spirit, so Act’s advice is act fast.   

“Book a ticket! It’s going to be such a fun night at the theatre…and when it all finishes they’ll have no idea what happened but they’ll know that they had a really good belly laugh.”

 

Blithe Spirit, March 21 – May 14, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

 

 

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