Drawing: Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre

Angela Lansbury


Theatre legend, Oscar winner and five time Tony Award winner Dame Angela Lansbury returned to the West End this spring for the first time in nearly 40 years in a revival of Noel Coward’s 1941 glacial comedy Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre.

She reunites with director Michael Blackmore to reprise the role of one of stage’s most loveable gargoyles, the dotty mystical fraud, Madame Arcati. “It’s a  character Dame Angela adores. She’s completely off the wall but utterly secure in her own convictions.” She won her 5th Tony playing the part in 2009.

A sprightly (maybe spiritly) 88, she’s the oldest performer appearing on the West End stage, seven years Robert Vaughn‘s senior (who appears in Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick.) It’s a remarkable performance. She’s on stage for most of the two and a half hours with a huge amount of lines and some energetic dance routines.

Blithe Spirit runs until June 7.


Drawing: Alison Steadman, Ruthie Henshall, Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst in Blithe Spirit

blithe spirit001

One of the classic stage doors is the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue (not the stage door, the theatre. The stage door is round the back in Archer Street). It’s opposite the White Horse pub and the home of 6 million pigeons (someone keeps feeding them). It is quintessential West End, flanked by the Gielgud and Lyric Theatres bordering on Soho.

A revival of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit had transferred there after a regional tour in 2010. Alison Steadman had signed the single sketch for me a couple of weeks earlier and I left her a copy. She was talking to the guy who feeds the pigeons, so I asked if she could sign the cast sketch. She was more than happy to, saying “we all really love your work, it’s excellent, thank you,” which was nice to hear.

Ruthie Henshall was already in… in fact, if I went to the first floor of the White Horse I would be on the same level as her dressing room and could get her attention… but no, that could lead to a conviction. Ruthie, apart from being a West End and Broadway star, dated Prince Edward “solidly for two years, on and off for five years”. Because it wasn’t public knowledge she was often ‘smuggled’ into Buckingham Palace. The relationship ended because she didn’t want to give up her career, but she did attend the Prince’s wedding to Sophie Rhys Jones in 1999.

TV star Hermione Norris was on her phone to a family member (I guessed), so I waited, but she multitasked and signed while she was still talking. I apologised, but she said, “not a problem,” and went inside. Very nice lady.

Her Cold Feet co-star Robert Bathurst is usually the last… and late. “He bikes,” said the stage door manager. Now, that’s running a few gauntlets at that time of night in the heart of London. But his understudy was reprieved again and he arrived in tact. He duly signed and wheeled his bike into the theatre.

Since it was a very pleasant May evening I ensconced myself at the White Horse to partake of their hospitality until the show ended and Ruthie left in the conventional manner (not needing to employ the covert operations of her royal courtship days). I got her coming out, so to speak, to complete the set.

Alison Steadman001