Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, Chichester Festival Theatre until 12 th May 2018.
Review By Soraya Scrivener
Noël Coward was an extremely witty and successful actor, playwright, composer, lyricist, director,
producer and filmmaker and apparently even an English spy in World War 2. With a Tony Award for
lifetime achievement and eventually knighted in 1970 for his services to drama and more recently a
West End Theatre named after him, no wonder Noël Coward was known as The Master. A celebrity of
his time, his signature looks of cigarette in hand wearing a dressing gown and later a turtleneck went
viral. Written as a light comedy in 1939 and first produced in 1942 with Coward in the leading role,
Present Laughter is deemed to be closest to an autobiographical piece. It follows Garry Essendine, a
famous, comedic actor in the depths of a mid-life crisis and his entourage of friends and colleagues with
some farce like situations.
Photo Credit : Johan Persson
The flyer for Present Laughter gave me the impression that Garry would be a caricature of Coward at the
heart of this production, but this is neither Director Sean Foley’s intention or the result and I am no
expert to presume that was Coward’s intention either. Comedian and actor Rufus Hound is certainly
accomplished in the leading role giving every ounce of energy to the huge amount of dialogue. However,
I couldn’t help yearning to see a more debonair, poised, suave Garry. Perhaps Hound is more suited to
characters that I remember him so well for, such as his hilarious portrayal of Freddy in Dirty Rotten
Scoundrels (Savoy Theatre 2014).
This production was extremely well-rehearsed to pull off such a frantic pace. No respite for the cast or
the audience unless a cigarette was being lit or smoked. Satisfying moments came from movement
perfectly in unison such as crossing legs and heads turning. There are also repetitive gags which I will not
give spoilers to that set up for bigger laughs. Designer Alice Power and props supervisor Lily Mollgaard
give us everything we need to set the scene and keep the cast on their toes.
Photo Credit : Johan Persson
Hound is supported by a superb cast including his co-star from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Katherine
Kingsley as Garry’s estranged wife Liz. Tracy-Ann Oberman as his long-suffering secretary, Monica,
returns to CFT after being Golde in Fiddler on The Roof here last season. I was particularly drawn to the
great chemistry they had together. Lizzy Connolly as debutante Daphne and Ben Allen as Mr Maule a
mad wishful playwright are just as memorising to watch. A highlight of the evening for me was Richard
Mylan’s Morris (manager to Garry) scene-stealing drunk in the last act.
The entire cast executed every scene with a fabulous, animated, flamboyant energy yet there seemed to
be an awful lot of unnecessary shouting throughout this production which is almost 3 hours from
opening to bows.
Hilarious? I am not convinced. The audience laughed in all the right places, but it was light laughter for a
light comedy. Coward’s quick-witted songs such as ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ and ‘Let’s Do It’ with
classic clipped diction tickle me greatly but this play didn’t delight as expected. An outstanding cast
however make this an enjoyable evening and I am inspired to read and listen more to ‘The Master.’
Present Laughter continues at CFT until the 12 th of May 2018.
Present Laughter is sponsored by Harwoods Group and Wiley.
Post-Show Talk Thursday 3 May
Stay after the performance to ask questions, meet company members and discover more. Free.
Celebrating Noël Coward
Two play readings of rarely performed works; tickets £5.
Peace in Our Time Saturday 28 April, 10am
Post Mortem Saturday 19 May, 10am
Play Power: Present Laughter Saturday 5 May, 12 noon
In partnership with the University of Chichester, a panel discussion led by Professor Simon Barker exploring key themes in Coward’s works including class, relationships and self-deprecation. Free but booking essential.
Noël’s War Saturday 12 May, 10am
Noël Coward’s war experiences are told in his own words with songs, letters and diary entries written by “The Master”, presented by members of the company. Tickets £5.
Box Office 01243 781312
Tickets from £10. Prologue tickets for 16 – 25 year olds for £5.