WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE?: Old Vic RUNTIME: 2 hours 20 minutes (with a 20-minute interval)
WHEN?: 22/6, opens 25/6, runs to 10/8/2019
Noel Coward died in 1973 and would surely have approved of this queering of his play to emphasise the bisexuality of its lead.
- Read on for reasons including how Scott chews the scenery as overacting protagonist Garry Essendine
Andrew Scott won our 2017 Best Theatre Actor monsta for his soulful Hamlet and here overacts outrageously as celebrity matinee idol Essendine with a surname that is an anagram of ‘neediness’.
Present Laughter was written in 1939 but not produced until 1942 because World War Two began while it was in rehearsal and the British theatres closed.
Set in Essendine’s flat, it follows the self-obsessed actor over the course of several days as we meet his secretary, estranged wife and various lovers as he prepares for a trip to Africa while battling with his own midlife crisis.
Coward was popular during the Great Depression and Present Laughter is one of his best-loved comedies alongside Blithe Spirit which is currently being revived at the Theatre Royal Bath starring Jennifer Saunders,
There’s a fine supporting cast and Sophie Thompson was especially good as a secretary who spars with Essendine but also shares a touching moment with him near the play’s conclusion as the actor comes to loathe periods where he is alone.
Indira Varma proves she can do comedy very well as Essendine’s wife and Luke Thallon‘s madcap fan ratchets up the tension. The multiple doors in the set allow for the action to become farce as various cast members who can’t meet are consigned through them to rooms we can’t see.
Scott’s character has been played by fine actors including Ian McKellen and Simon Callow and we can’t imagine them having as much fun with the vain actor as Scott does here.
Last summer we saw the Sherlock actor in spellbinding form in 30-minute Simon Stephens’ monologueSea Wall and this is certainly its equal.
Coward is not for everyone, although Scott was in Design For Living at this very venue opposite Tom Burke in 2010, but this fine production does his wit justice and this is London’s comedy hit of the summer.