Present Laughter at the Old Vic
Andrew Scott smashes all expectations in this hilarious new adaptation of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter.
The play is a parody of Coward’s own life. A theatrical star, Garry Essendine, is tormented by his fame, having to face seducers and seductresses, an insane young playwright and the crumbling of close relationships while at the same time falling into a mid-life crisis. It’s an effective concoction of love, sex, panic and soul-searching.
This new version of the 1940s show feels modern and true, though only one major change seems to have been made in order to bring it in line with the 21st century. One of Essendine’s love interests has been changed from a woman to a man, as well as other references to male partners. Perhaps this is purely a way of avoiding the rather outdated implication that all women are just lovestruck fools. But actually, it feels perfect for the central character. His overly dramatic and hedonistic life mixed with his cavalier, throw-away attitude towards sex lends itself to finding short-term love and pleasure wherever possible.
Scott is magic. Just when you think he’s set the bar impossibly high for himself, he clears it by a mile. He lights up the stage as the self-obsessed protagonist. When he’s not throwing the most marvellous tantrums, he’s throwing perfectly timed wit.
The production is very much focused around Essendine. A man who loves to be the centre of attention is very much the centre of attention. Other characters come in and out but it is really his life that is on display. So it is no surprise that Scott’s phenomenal performance is the glue that holds this play together.
That’s not to say, however, that the other actors aren’t brilliant. Sophie Thompson is an absolute treat as Essendine’s battle-hardened secretary, Monica Reed. Kitty Archer is delightful as the young and in-love Daphne. And Luke Thallon’s slightly unhinged Roland Maule is also great.
The only thing that surpasses the cast is perhaps the writing. Coward’s fantastic wit is as sharp today as it ever was. Coupled with rich and engrossing characters, this play is simply non-stop enchantment.
Any chance to see Scott perform is a chance not to be missed. But Present Laughter is truly the whole package and no doubt one of, if not the best, show London has to offer this season.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Present Laughter is at the Old Vic from 17th June until 10th August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.