Charles Condomine, a successful novelist, wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing, and he arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance at his house. At the séance, she inadvertently summons Charles’s first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. Madame Arcati leaves after the séance, unaware that she has summoned Elvira. Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, does not believe that Elvira exists until a floating vase is handed to her out of thin air. Elvira is louche and moody, in contrast to the more strait-laced Ruth. The ghostly Elvira makes continued, and increasingly desperate, efforts to disrupt Charles’s current marriage. She finally sabotages his car in the hope of killing him so that he will join her in the spirit world, but it is Ruth rather than Charles who drives off and is killed.
Ruth’s ghost immediately comes back for revenge on Elvira, and though Charles cannot at first see Ruth, he can see that Elvira is being chased and tormented, and his house is in uproar. He calls Madame Arcati back to exorcise both of the spirits, but instead of banishing them she unintentionally materialises Ruth. With both his dead wives now fully visible, and neither of them in the best of tempers, Charles, together with Madame Arcati, goes through séance after séance and spell after spell to try to exorcise them. It is not until Madame Arcati works out that the housemaid, Edith, is psychic and had unwittingly been the conduit through which Elvira was summoned that she succeeds in dematerialising both ghosts. Charles is left seemingly in peace, but Madame Arcati, hinting that the ghosts may still be around unseen, warns him that he should go far away as soon as possible. Coward repeats one of his signature theatrical devices at the end of the play, where the central character tiptoes out as the curtain falls; Charles leaves at once, and the unseen ghosts throw things and destroy the room as soon as he has gone.
NB In the Grange production Charles’ surname was changed to ‘Constantine’
Nearly sixty forgotten photographs have been found in the archive, and here they are. During captioning, we suspect there may be a few duplicates which will need weeding out. And there are so many that – in time – we’ll arrange them in better chronological order. Meanwhile, enjoy them!
Click a photo to start the slide show. After 15 seconds the next image appears. To hurry through, click the right-hand arrow midway down the screen.To pause a photo, click the left-hand icon showing at the bottom centre of the screen (it then turns into a right-facing arrow – click it when you want to continue.) To exit the show, simply click on the small X at the top right of the black surround.
Memories, Letters and Publicity
One of the funniest moments during rehearsal on this show was the result of a long search by sound man Peter Wroe for a cuckoo. Before the days of the internet (with its on-demand access to absolutely anything – including birdsong) we would either use tracks from the BBC Sound Effects long-playing records or, if possible, record sounds live. Hunting down a real cuckoo proved, um, testing and as none of our Beeb records contained the ruddy bird, Peter was in rather a quandary.
Come the first (of two) dress rehearsals and he turned up looking very relaxed. Had he succeeded? With baited breath, us techies in the control room awaited the cue: and here it came. Peter casually pressed ‘Play’ on his cassette recorder and, bang on time, from the effects speaker hidden by the on-stage window came indeed the sound of a cuckoo.
Very realistic, too, from the initial whirring of the clockwork, to the opening of the little doors, to the wheezy mechanical sound of a cuckoo announcing twelve o’clock.
We all – the cast included – fell about, weeping with laughter. All except for Fred who occasionally suffered from a sense of humour loss. He came steaming round ready to hand out a roasting but, by then, Peter had loaded the correct effects tape and run the proper cue!
Even today, many years later, if I chance to hear a cuckoo I automatically wait for its mechanical whirrings . . .
The stage set, despite being a single setting, demanded very careful preparation for each evening’s show. At the climax of the story the pair of extremely angry and vengeful spirits embark on a spectacular trashing of what was once a neat and tidy sitting room. Light fishing twine was attached to a number of items (vases, books, lamps, ornaments – that sort of thing) and, as the two late wives fade into eternity, these items are violently thrown from their places, courtesy of a very busy stage manager who had to tug each specific length of twine in correct order for maximum effect. Putting that lot back up again after the final curtain for the next evening’s performance was quite a job!