Angela Lansbury, Kennedy Center honoree and five-time Tony Award-winning icon of stage, screen and television, returns to Washington’s National Theatre, where she made her first pre-Broadway stage debut nearly 58 years ago.
This time, she inhabits medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s comedy “Blithe Spirit,” which played to packed audiences in London’s West End last year. That success sparked the U.S. tour that began in Los Angeles this December and concludes in Washington on March 29.
On March 10, the Society of London Theatre announced that Miss Lansbury receives her first Olivier Award nomination for her role as Madame Arcati in the West End production. Directed by Tony Award winner Michael Blakemore, the show arriving in Washington features members of the all-star London cast, among them the celebrated actor Charles Edwards as Charles Condomine, a novelist who invites Madame Arcati to his home for a seance.
“I’m looking forward to our run in Washington because it’s my first time there,” Mr. Edwards told The Washington Times. “It’s nostalgic to repeat the play and the role that happened to be my first professional job. I keep every script in order to think back and remind myself of mistakes I may have made.”
Mr. Edwards, well-known in this country by viewers of “Downton Abbey” as the publisher and lover of Lady Edith, starred in the 2008 Tony-winning Broadway production of “The 39 Steps” direct from London and the Olivier Award win for best comedy.
His career highs include nominations as best actor at the London Evening Standard Awards for his performances as Bertie in the original stage play “The King’s Speech” and as Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. His other notable stage roles are Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Sandy Tyrrell in Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” both opposite Judi Dench, and James Marsden in Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude.”
“In addition to the total excitement of our London run and meeting Angela, I’ve never been in a play that generates so much enthusiasm wherever we go,” Mr. Edwards said. “Our longest stay was in Los Angeles, which is quite different from Broadway. The quirky British humor in ‘The 39 Steps’ translated to Broadway when the play transferred from London, but I did notice that British irony translates a bit differently in LA.”
Mr. Edwards’ films include “Philomena,” “Batman Begins,” “Mansfield Park” and “An Ideal Husband.” On television, he played Michael Palin in the BBC production “Holy Flying Circus” and appeared in “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” “Trying Again” and “Ripper Street.” He will be seen in “Arthur and George,” a new series for ITV about Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle.
“Being in a comedy is markedly different from playing serious roles like Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II,’ which I’ll spend a month or so working on at my home in Sussex before it opens at the Globe Theatre in July,” he said. “I enjoy all kinds of roles and have played a number of Shakespeare characters when they come along. The incentive is usually listening to people who say, ‘You should play this role.’ The most important factor is the story.”
Mr. Edwards worked diligently to get the role of Bertie, King George VI, exactly right in the stage version of “The King’s Speech” and to do justice to people who stuttered. Even though it debuted shortly after the movie version, it ran 10 successful weeks in London’s West End, satisfying screenwriter David Seidler, who wanted to see the story inspired by his own childhood stuttering on the stage.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Mr. Edwards was not as familiar to American audiences as he was to those in England, but his role as Michael Gregson on “Downton Abbey” quickly changed that. He now draws enthusiastic fans of the series wherever he goes.
“It’s very nice to be recognized when I least expect it,” he said, adding that he initially had no idea that writer Julian Fellowes intended to kill off the character at the hands of the Nazis. “The news of my death is very murky, with a brief mention of my body parts. Who knows what could have transpired?
“But the ‘Blithe Spirit’ audience gives us immediate reaction. They roar with laughter from the outset so that the other characters and I feel their enthusiasm and are buoyed by it. We thought that our London run was it. Then we got the call for the U.S. tour. It’s been great fun.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” starring Angela Lansbury
WHERE: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004
WHEN: March 17-29; Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.
INFO: Tickets $45 to $108 by calling 202/628-6161 or visiting TheNationalDC.org