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?
I’d always been the entertainer of the family as a little girl, dressing up in all sorts of eccentric outfits and making up skits with my cat, Pinto. I felt it was my job to cheer everyone up and ‘make ’em laugh’ (though likely I just succeeded in irritating them). I’d love to say that I saw Hamlet at the age of 4 and was filled with the beauty and wonder of the stage but no…it was Holiday On Ice at a tacky seaside resort in England when I was 8. That’s the first feeling I had of ‘Oh! I want to do that!’ As my skating skills weren’t quite exceptional enough, I ended up doing plays.
Hmmm….well, aside from doing Blithe Spirit, which is my happiest job to date, I loved being in Importance Of Being Earnest and the Winslow Boy on Broadway- both were such fun roles and casts. Likewise, doing Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project and being able to do The Cherry Orchard and The Winters Tale in rep all around the world was an incredible experience.
How do you relate to your character, Ruth Condomine? And personal traits you both share?
Well- Noel Coward had apparently envisioned all of the characters in the play as completely unsympathetic, but I believe that an actor has to find some humanity to relate to in every character they play, or there will be no truth in it. That said, although I am very different from Ruth (who begins the play as the ultimate elegant, witty — if not a little uptight — 1930’s housewife and completely derails into an eccentric mess), I definitely understand why she copes in the way that she does with the impossible situation of the ghost of her husband’s former wife moving in with them. It’s all very silly but much fun to play.
How has your performance changed or evolved since your first performance?
That’s hard to evaluate when you’re ‘inside’ the role, but I definitely have much more fun with Ruth than I did in the early days, when mostly I was panicking about what I was meant to say next, and where the hell I was supposed to be on the stage! The repartee is very fast and Ruth has an awful lot to say, so it was quite a mouthful getting around the words initially. I feel very much more relaxed now and feel I’ve discovered more little comic moments as we’ve gone along. Most of my work is opposite either Charles Edwards, who plays my husband Charles Condomine, and Angela Lansbury, who of course plays Madame Arcati. As both are so outstanding, flexible, and fun as actors, we discover new things together in the scenes all the time.
What is it like to work with Dame Angela Lansbury? And what have you learned as an actor from her and watching her?
Angela is an absolutely beautiful person onstage and offstage. She is the essence of grace, humility and kindness, while being silly enough to mess about and have a good joke with. In her work, of course, she is genius…you’ll have to come and see the show to witness that…it really is the most astonishing, hysterical, delightful, endearing performance. In fact- that’s my best word to describe Angela- she’s just simply incredibly endearing, which is why everyone loves her so much. (The standing ovations and whooping at curtain call are nightly proof!)
And what have you learned as an actor from her and watching her?
Wow- what an honor to have had the chance to work opposite her, especially when it’s just the two of us onstage together. I still get goosebumps actually. I am just trying to soak up as much of her magic as possible…her comic timing is impeccable, and she uses her vocal range so cleverly in the role. Her physical comedy is also quite spectacular. It’s ever so much fun if one of us forgets a line in our scene together or something goes wrong, like a hat falling off or teapot breaking, as we start ad libbing to deal with the issue, and she comes out with the funniest things!
Washington, D.C is the last leg of the Blithe Spirit US Tour. What was it like joining the tour in Toronto?
I guess the most overwhelming thing has been the audience response- when Angela joins us to take her curtain call they just go wild…it’s like being at a rock concert. It’s really very moving to watch.
This company is one of the loveliest groups of people I have worked with, so we have an awful lot of fun together- from home cooked Christmas dinner at Angela’s house in LA, Oscar night party in Toronto, opening nights in four cities, a pajama party, a baby shower, fancy bars, dive bars, exploring together….
One of my favorite nightly rituals is that, as I arrive at the theatre and have to start getting ready the earliest of the cast, it has become a ‘thing’ that everyone congregates in my dressing room before the half hour call with cups of tea and whatever chocolate or cookies a fan has delivered to the stage door ( NB- champagne also welcome), and we have a catch up about the day and usually end up being silly.
What’s next for you on the stage after the tour ends?
A nice spell visiting my family in England in the countryside drawing and watching an unhealthy amount of House Of Cards, and then Twelfth Night playing Olivia at The Old Globe. Another comedy, which makes me happy. Though I love doing both equally, I’m sure I’m a nicer person to be around when I’m doing something silly than some heart wrenching play where everyone ends up miserable and/or dead.
What do you think makes Blithe Spirit so hilarious and entertaining after all these years, and why should DC audiences come see the show?
The play is timeless- that sort of situational farce and humor appeals to any generation. It’s just incredibly cleverly written and performed, and SO much fun to watch- a really genuinely thrilling night at the theatre.
And then, of course, there’s Dame Angela Lansbury…
Enough said- you’d be mad to miss it.
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.
An Interview with Melissa Woodbridge of ‘Blithe Spirit’ at The National Theatre on DCMetroTheaterArts.
The Blithe Spirit tour website.