An Interview with Melissa Woodbridge of ‘Blithe Spirit’ at The National Theatre

Melissa Woodbridge.
Melissa Woodbridge.

When did you first get the ‘theatre bug’ and what are some of your earliest experiences and memories of appearing on the stage? Any favorites?

As a kid with a loud voice I was often the narrator in the school play. A little boring until once I went off script and decided to improvise a section of the nativity! I also wrote my own plays and  I used to charge the neighbours admission. I would cast myself as the main part and force my younger brother to play the dog. There was a reworking of Grease I remember – with a dog…

What was your first paid stage performance and how old were you when you appeared in that show?

Does being paid in alcohol count? Straight after Drama School I did a play above a pub. It was profit share and all the money went on wine and vodka. I’m still great friends with the cast now.

How do you relate to your character, Elvira? And personal traits you both share?

Elvira has a real sense of fun which I share. I’m afraid I’m a little attention seeking and melodramatic too, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t stretch to murder to get what I want.

How has your performance changed or evolved since your first performance?

The beauty of theatre is being able to experiment and feel what works with how an audience responds. So there are a few little things that I thought would be hilarious in rehearsal which just didn’t work! But essentially I’ve relaxed more. The fear and adrenalin of a first performance can be a little restrictive so once you know you can do it – you have the freedom to make it your own and play around more.

What is it like to work with Dame Angela Lansbury? And what have you learned as an actor from her and watching her?

She is quite rightly a legend! And a hilarious one at that. On and off the stage. I’m trying to learn how she reads an audience like no other and responds so naturally with the most incredible comic timing. She’s also great for all important helpful hints like ‘where on earth should I hide my microphone pack with a skimpy outfit?’  I love the fact she is just so humble and is genuinely moved by the phenomenal responses from the crowd.

Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati in the 2009 Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.” Photo by Robert J. Saferstein.
Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati in the 2009 Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit.’ Photo by Robert J. Saferstein.

Washington, D.C is the last leg of the Blithe Spirit US Tour. What was it like joining the tour in Toronto?

Incredibly cold! I think the wind chill was –35 degrees when I landed. Of course it was rather special and exciting. I’m very lucky to be joining not only a superbly talented cast and a wonderful play, but a bloody lovely company who are a lot of fun. Oh, and I got to see Niagara Falls.

What’s next for you on the stage after the tour ends?

Although not strictly on stage, I’m actually going to be working with children on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which is touring around the UK. Touchstone (a charity which I run with some friends) is collaborating with the (UK) National Theatre’s Education Department.

What do you think makes Blithe Spirit so hilarious and entertaining after all these years, and why should DC audiences come see the show?

Noel Coward was a genius wordsmith. His snappy dialogue and the way he captures people and their (sometimes despicable) behaviors make it timeless and joyful.  You won’t stop laughing. This version is the crème de la crème – it’s how it should be done!

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Blithe Spirit plays through March 29, 2015 at The National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online, or buy them at the box office.

LINK:
The Blithe Spirit tour website.