8 May 2001 WOS Rating: Present Laughter is a typical Noel Coward vehicle, originally designed for Coward himself. A farce of bedroom doors, affairs, strange personalities and deception with the witty lines of the central character, Garry Essendine, punctuating all activity, Laughteris, in essence, a superficial piece of entertainment about superficial people and it can, and should, be enjoyed at that level. But Coward is also cleverer than that and, towards the end, we see that Garry is actually a very powerful individual with a real ability to manipulate those around him - often for their own good. The play is most definitely a period piece. In fact, it is so heavily into its period that one wonders if Coward would be happy to see it still on stage rather than a distant, ephemeral memory. In order to work to a modern audience, it requires a staging and performance that echo the original styles. Middle Ground Theatre Company has clearly worked very hard to produce a light, fast and entertaining evening, and the company's efforts really hit the spot.
Richard Walsh's full-blown Coward impersonation seems a bit much, but it quickly wins you over as he maintains it consistently and with real panache. All of the actors exhibit strong stage presence and excellent timing, allowing the play to bowl along and entertain like it should. The secretary, Monica Reed played by Pat Mackie, provides a solid and entirely credible foil to the exuberant Garry whilst his other staff, the crazy Miss Erikson (played with excellent characterisation by Pat Mackie) and the cheeky butler Fred ( Brian Cant, the audience favourite) provides ample reason to laugh out loud.
Ali Gorton as Garry's ex-wife, Cathy Sabberton as the man-hunting Joanna and Kelly Hull as the gushing debutante work well in the team, too. The parts of Morris ( Miles Chambers), Henry ( Tarquin Shaw-Young) and Lady Saltburn ( Linda Slade) are written to move the story forward, rather than provide great roles, but they're handled well by performers who know how to strike that delicate balance between playing to the Coward style and parodying it. A final mention must go to Drew Rhys Williams' portrayal of Roland, the crazy stalker, which manages to swing between almost slapstick and quite scary in an instant - excellent.
All in all, very entertaining - Coward fans, in particular, should deem this a very good night out. It has also confirmed my long-held admiration for
Brian Cant's comic ability.
- Robert Iles
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