STAGE REVIEW: Blithe Spirit at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, January 27 to, Saturday, February 1, 2020.

MOVE over Dame Margaret Rutherford, that doyen of Madame Arcatis, because there is someone else out there and she’s knocking on the door.

She outdoes Joan Hickson, Angela Lansbury and Geraldine Page, who have alll played the part in Noel Coward’s classic comedy, and there have been others who have filled this iconic role - while Dame Judi Dench is waiting in the wings and will bring the character back to the big screen later this year.

Now you can add to this small but wondrous list that stand-out comedienne, Jennifer Saunders., whose version is top drawer.

She’s sheer bliss in this latest stage revival which is now on tour before heading for the West End.

Saunders provides an outstanding and ‘absolutely fabulous’ performance full of the nuances and little gestures expected of the oddball medium in over-sized bloomers!

Noël Coward’s 1941 play and its 1945 film version are perennial favourites but it is hugely dependent on having a top class Madame Arcati, and in Saunders’ case she provides the bumbling battiness that is required.

It’s partly why a play over 80 years old still holds a treasured spot in theatre-goers hearts. This and Coward’s way with words - his provision of a verbal and physical comedy.

Basically the story is of an author who calls on the madame’s ‘skills’ to carry out a seance which he hopes will offer research into a new thriller book. Events take an an unexpected turn though when she brings back the author’s first wife much to the chagrin of his second.

Not all can see or hear her as Edith, the maid, does - another delightfully dotty performance from Rose Wardlaw.

The whole cast had the necessary dash of quality such as Geoffrey Streatfield’s Charles and his second wife Ruth (Lisa Dillon) and there’s also the extra veneer added to director Richard Eyre’s efforts by Anthony Ward’s excellent set.

It’s a show for which there is great demand as a full house first night showed, and as soon as a ticket is available there’s a clamour for it. Try not to miss out on this perfect treat and keep trying for a ticket.

You won’t be disappointed if you should be lucky enough to lay your hands on one.

Surprising how a comedy about death can lift the ‘spirits’.