THEATRE REVIEW: Present Laughter

August 9, 2016


Present Laughter

Noel Coward

Theatre Royal


Directed by Stephen Unwin.

Actor, charmer and diva, Garry Essendine is determined to disregard his advancing years and receding hairline by revelling in his endless tantrums and casual affairs.

But just as he is about to depart for Africa, he finds himself besieged by a bevy of would-be seductresses, not to mention his long suffering secretary, his estranged wife and an obsessed young playwright. As he attempts to disentangle himself from their clutches and demands, the humour escalates, accompanied by farce and sparkling repartee.


Samuel West and Phyllis Logan star in this Noel Coward period piece and the play is glittering, sparkling, sharp like a gutting knife and often the parallels to a butchers implement is carried thought into the characters and the plot, its froth and sparkle hide the mean heart of these selfish entitled greedy people who will do anything to preserve their privileged status. Its hard ugly dark heart has been polished to an obsidian sheen, lethal, amoral, cold and so sharp it could have cut its own throat. I loved it, loathed each and every one of the characters, for various reasons but enjoyed the bounce, verve and relentless narrative steam rolling.  Coward was never a coward when he could spear his peers, and now, in the haze of deconstructed, revisionist theatre we can see this a little more clearly for what it is, but however you might choose to sniff at the entitled elitists stance, you’ll snort at some of the lines in the most deliciously vulgar way as did most of the Theatre Royal audience. A few folk like me snorted at the ‘wrong’ place as the relentless misogynistic yuck ate thought my patience. Its funny Downtown, ghastly glitterati,  its posh folk who talk like type writers and act like them too, it’s staid and hypocritical haut monde and  folk love it.  Director Unwin has brought a tight team to bear on this and gone for period, period.  No sense of ripping it open and looking at this nasty stuff more closely, but then when it’s this charming, why bother and that’s part of the delight of this play, it’s mirrors itself perfectly, an infinity of vanities.


The play looks great, glossary with a lovely tender edge of details, (from designer Simon Higlett) the set is a great piece of work, costumes, lighting and music picked with a real eye on the period and this adds to a feeling of something substantial and worthy, but it’s a rotten thing, as are the characters.

Overview of the intrigue and plot here

west 1

Samuel West is superb in a part Noel wrote for himself, the rest of the cast is equality delightful, putting as much effort as possible into making these manikins of pose and projected wit seem human and believable, or just giving up and giving us wonderful daft and slightly nutty performances which brought some fresh laughter out, but deep deep down this is desperately shallow stuff, perfect Coward.

This is superb, well-crafted piece of theatre faithful in details, attitude and character to Mr Coward’s vision.

The full audience found it a very comfortable treat indeed and perfect evening entertainment after the long weekend that is Pride, I certainly agree with the latter.

Plays until Saturday, August 13, 2016