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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Downton Abbey's Charles Edwards to Star Opposite Dame Angela Lansbury in "Blithe Spirit"

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 7:45 AM

  • Joan Marcus

The 1941 Noel Coward play, Blithe Spirit, is the stuff of nightmares. During a seance gone wrong, a man’s charmingly inept medium accidentally conjures the spirit of his, shall we just say difficult, ex-wife. But fear not, survivors of relationships-better-left-forgotten. The comedy, which stars Dame Angela Lansbury in her Tony Award-winning role as Madame Arcati, the medium, and Downton Abbey’s Charles Edwards as the poor fool in left to deal the the ghost of his ex, is more tongue-in-cheek than spooky relationship drama.

SF Weekly spoke with Edwards about his role in Blithe Spirit, working with Dame Angela Lansbury, and transition from television to stage.

click to enlarge JOHAN PERSSON
  • Johan Persson
The role of Charles in a previous production of Blithe Spirit was your very first theater role, is that right?

That’s true, it was my first job when I left drama school. I was about 24 when I left drama school, so it was about 20 years ago. [...] I was way too young to play it — but yeah, it was my first experience.

What is it like revisiting a role/production 20 years later?

I’m much more informed to play it now because I’m the age the guy is supposed to be. And I really can't remember what I did before, which is nice. I found a the script that I used with all my notes in it but I didn’t look at that because I didn’t want to be reminded of anything that I’d done before. So I approached this time completely new. This whole thing is such an event. The Angela Lansbury factory makes it so exciting.

And in this production you’ll be working with amazing Dame Angela Lansbury. What’s it like to work with her?

She works hard, she works very hard. And she cares deeply about the whole show. Some people may just focus on their own stuff, but she’s always got an eye the way the thing looks as a whole. She cares very much about it. She’s an extraordinary person. Her energy and vitality are extraordinary. Like, here in L.A. we’ve been doing four show weekends; two on Saturday, two on Sunday, and that’s tough for anybody. [...] It’s tiring! But, you know, you bite your tongue when you see Angela just doing it. And you decide not to say how tired you are because she’s just going for it.

And the one quality that I’ve noticed about her that I really admire is — in a comedy, you often “find out where your laughs are”. [...] You get into the rhythm of the role and you notice when the audience tends to react. And sometimes you can hang your performance on that a bit. You can come off and go, “Oh they didn’t find that very funny tonight, maybe the next night they will.” But she doesn’t do that. She just goes onstage and plays the part. She doesn’t play it for the laughs - she brings a hell of a lot of truth to the role, which I think if her real strength. Because this role has been played by many people in many productions, and it’s often sort of this ditzy, silly character. But she plays it absolutely for the truth of it.

click to enlarge JOAN MARCUS
  • Joan Marcus
For most Americans you’re known for your role on wildly popular Downton Abbey How do you feel about acting for a television show vs. acting onstage in a live performance?

Well it’s not that different. Obviously there are elements on stage where you have to be, I don’t know, practical stuff; you have to a bit louder, physically you have to be a bit more expansive. Especially these theaters that we are playing on on tour, which are very big theaters. But also [Blithe Spirit is] a comedy, [...] so you’re allowed to be a little bit more expansive than perhaps you would in a straight play or on television.

Is it fun for you to work on a comedy rather than a drama?

I love comedy. [...] And a cross between comedy and drama, for me is ideal. I always like to have a few laughs - I do enjoy that. But I also enjoy a energetic play - like [Blithe Spirit] - that’s very energetic, highly physical, quick, witty - I love all that stuff.

Some plays ask lots of you and it’s nice to feel that you’re conquering it, you know, and delivering what the playwright intended.

SHN presents "Blithe Spirit" from January 20 through February 1 at the Golden Gate Theater, 445 Geary St., S.F. Tickets are $45-$175; call 551-2000 or visit
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Laura Jaye Cramer


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