Angela Lansbury returns to London’s West End at 88

Angela Lansbury, who said she’s in good nick at 88, is returning to the London stage in March — after an absence of four decades.

The legendary actress best knokwn for for role in ‘MURDER SHE WROTE’ will play dotty medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, reprising a role that won her a Tony award on Broadway four years ago.

Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury returns to London’s West End at 88

‘You could say it’s my last chance,’ she said quietly, before adding swiftly: ‘It isn’t! But you could say that. After all, I am 88 — in my 89th year now. But I’ve got many more years left. I do believe that.’

Blithe Spirit will begin a 15-week run at the Gielgud Theatre (currently home to Strangers On A Train) on March 1, with an official opening night set for March 18.

Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, Ms Lansbury said she’d been hoping the show would come to London for a long time but the right theatres were unavailable — till now. ‘Coward is the essence of a Britishness long gone,’ she said.

The actress last trod the boards here in 1975. She played Gertrude opposite Albert Finney’s Hamlet at the National Theatre, directed by Peter Hall.

‘I wanted to come back in something that I felt totally comfortable in, and playing Arcati was a wonderful experience for me,’ she said, noting that audiences on Broadway seemed to enjoy watching her ‘flying’ around the stage. ‘I hope to God I can still fly around at the same rate!’ she wondered aloud.

Ms Lansbury did, somehow, seem to take flight when I caught her in the comedy in New York back in 2009. During one scene with Rupert Everett, who played fictional novelist Charles Condomine, she summoned ectoplasms in a séance by dancing around in a style that went out with Isadora Duncan.

‘I took Greek dancing lessons in Regent’s Park as a little girl,’ she confided. She noted that actors will use ‘every bloomin’ thing they can lay their hands on’ to bring their characters to life. ‘This dance was Arcati’s way to get in touch with the spirits, and she used it,’ she said.
Angela Lansbury pictured accepting an Honorary Award at the 5th Annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Hollywood earlier this month

Angela Lansbury pictured accepting an Honorary Award at the 5th Annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Hollywood earlier this month

Michael Blakemore, who directed Ms Lansbury in New York, will repeat those duties at the Gielgud, with new costumes and sets. (The actress said the director had hated the NY set. ‘It had no personality.’)

Blakemore, along with producers Lee Dean and Jeffrey Richards, have cast Charles Edwards, who plays Lady Edith’s lover on Downton Abbey, as Condomine. Suddenly, thanks to Arcati, he finds himself under assault from his two wives: Ruth, very much alive; and the errant Elvira, supposedly dead. Janie Dee will play Ruth and Jemima Rooper is in negotiations to haunt as Elvira.

Ms Lansbury, who was born in London and went to South Hampstead School for Girls, comes from a long line of British actors and politicians. Decades ago she went to Hollywood to make Gaslight — and stayed. Her most significant successes — films such as The Harvey Girls and The Manchurian Candidate; the five Tony awards on Broadway; and the long-running Murder, She Wrote TV series — were all achieved in America.

Earlier this month, she was given a special Oscar in recognition of her services to acting.

She told me she feels ‘in terrific shape’ to play London. ‘I think if one keeps one’s health and strength, and you’re pretty damn careful about how you conduct your life, then you can hang on for many years.’

Though she did concede that she was now ‘a bionic woman’. ‘I’ve got artificial knees and hips. Other than that, I’m in good physical shape.’

She put her robustness down to ‘state of mind’, not necessarily diet and exercise — though she does like a drop of strong builders tea and has been known to down a mug of Barry’s Irish Tea.

She will visit the house she keeps in Ireland in early January and then travel to London to set up house and start rehearsals. Producer Lee Dean emphasised that the run was strictly for 15 weeks.

‘She can’t extend,’ he explained, as she has a wedding to attend back in the US.

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Mark Meets
Mark Meets
MarkMeets Media is British-based online news magazine covering showbiz, music, tv and movies

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