Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre is making magic with the first production of its third summer season, Blithe Spirit.
Not only does this classic comic play include magic tricks, a séance, ghosts and a clairvoyant, but the set was created for Pacific Opera Victoria’s production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, and magically transformed to suit Blue Bridge’s needs, all without the hocus-pocus.
Although the play and the opera may seem to be opposites, there lies within some similarities, including Canadian Award winning director Glynis Leyshon and acclaimed set designer Pam Johnson, who worked on both productions.
“I was originally contracted by POV to do Vanessa, then before the show really got designed, I was asked to consider Blithe Spirit at same time so they can share resources . . . I thought, ‘this should be fun,’” says Johnson.
“Vanessa had to come first, but I thought of ways of being able to take things away or add to it to give it a different look so that it would also work for Blithe Spirit.
“And certainly it helped that Glynis Leyshon was directing (both) because she had to be on board with this concept as well. Between the two of us, I think we came up with some good solutions on how to transform it.”
Another similarity is that both pieces are set in European countryside homes: Blithe Spirit in an English manor, and Vanessa in a northern mansion.
“Vanessa is an opera piece that required a very large-scale mansion feeling, whereas this is a country house,” says Leyshon.
The whole set was repurposed, repainted or refinished to go from an icy winter to a warmer climate with harsh whites making way for buttery yellows and creams, and a chilly backdrop of leafless birch trees made way for blooming hydrangeas.
The two large French doors leading to the terrace had their pediments removed, the grand fireplace lost its huge mirror, and the floor was repainted to a dark brown plank style from a white herringbone pattern.
“The floor was painted separately on medite sheets and we applied it by screwing it on top,” Johnson says.
“Blue Bridge is incredibly creative, so all three of the shows they’re doing are situated on the same rake,” Johnson says. “We’re also sharing the same floor with their other show, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We’re being very clever and very innovative as far as sharing as much as we possibly can with the three shows that they’re doing.”
Written by Noel Coward in 1941, Blithe Spirit is an award-winning play that explores the hilarity that ensues after a socialite novelist invites an eccentric clairvoyant, Madame Arcati to his home to conduct a seance. Leyshon has chosen Brian Linds to play the role of Madame Arcati.
“This sort of cross-gender casting is becoming more popular,” says Leyshon. “He’s a wonderful, very skilled actor. This is less about a guy in a dress and more about an asexual British country woman.” M
Opens Thursday, June 9 at 8pm
Runs through Sunday, June 19
McPherson Playhouse (#3 Centennial Square)
Tickets 250-386-6121 or rmts.bc.ca