Nöel Coward’s hilarious play is reborn in this modern production of Present Laughter.
Andrew Scott is an icon. Every dramatic appearance he’s made on our screens, or onstage, has been an unforgettable one. Whether it be as psychopath Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, Gethin in Pride, charming Hamlet onstage, or the Hot Priest in Fleabag, Scott is an Irish treasure.
He’s just the latest in a line of big names (think Ian McKellen) to take the leading role in Nöel Coward’s play, Present Laughter. The play is by all means not new to the West End, though – it was written in 1939, and first performed in 1943. However, today’s director Matthew Warchus has given this celebrated comedy some modern twists.
Present Laughter follows the life of famous matinee idol and rakish hero, Garry Essendine. Garry is a narcissistic, flamboyant egomaniac who has reached an identity crisis whilst slipping into middle age. Though he is separated from his bolshy, independent wife Liz (played by Indira Varma, of Game of Thrones fame), Garry is determined to live a youthful life of debauchery and splendour at the age of 41. But through his pleasure, he inflicts the trauma of his sexual appetite upon his intense, obsessive fans… and friends too.
In Coward’s original script, Garry’s character is given both female and male sexual partners (although the latter more discreetly), but director Warchus has given the comedy a more modern twist by openly showing that Garry is bisexual. This seems to be a much-needed comparison to the present day, showing that gender and sexuality can indeed be fluid.
Amidst his dazzling life, it seems that Garry’s friends want everything from him – at all times. While they accuse him of being overdramatic and inappropriate in his sexual endeavours, they themselves are indulging in affairs of all natures – making this play’s original title of Sweet Sorrow seem rather fitting.
Age has crept up on Garry, and it seems his only true friend lies in the company of his hilarious secretary Monica (Sophie Thompson). Still, even she has a life that doesn’t revolve around Garry, and he spends many a night alone with only sherry for company. The loneliness Garry feels after dark is poignant, and he turns to what he knows and does best – sex, but with the wrong people. It’s worth noting here that Coward cleverly chose Essendine as a surname for his protagonist, as it is an anagram of ‘neediness’.
Present Laughter is a pleasure. Scott’s performance is fantastic, and he is an entertainer of the highest degree. Garry Essendine is the perfect role for Scott to mould as his own – he perfectly imbues each scene with a glint in his eye that combines Moriarty’s psychopathic nature, and the Hot Priest’s raw, sexual prowess. It is simply unmissable.
Present Laughter runs at The Old Vic until August 10th – get your tickets here!
Words by Emmie Harrison.