Simon Callow (pictured) stars in Michael Rudman’s new revival of Noel Coward’s 1942 comedy Present Laughter (See The Goss, 1 Nov 2005). Opened this week at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, the production continues on tour, to eight further venues, until 3 June 2006 ahead of an expected West End transfer.

Set in the glamorous world of the theatre during the Jazz Age, Present Laughter is a witty portrait of the life that whirled round Coward in his heyday. The playwright penned the comedy as a vehicle for his own talent, with a lead role that was dangerously close to being autobiographical.

Flamboyantly vain and devastatingly handsome, charismatic charmer Garry Essendine (played by Callow) is about to set off on an extended tour of Africa, when he's visited by practically everyone he knows including his ex-wife/manager, lawyer, secretary, butler, business partners, an admiring young playwright and a recent one-night stand. The stage is set for a battle of glittering egos.

Actor, writer and director Callow is best known to theatregoers for his roles in myriad plays such as, most recently, Through the Leaves, Holy Terror and The Mystery of Charles Dickens (not to mention his many film appearances in the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bright Young Things and Shakespeare in Love). He made his stage musical debut last year playing Count Fosco in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White (See News, 1 Aug 2005), having previously played the role in the BBC’s 1997 (non-musical) TV adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ Victorian novel.

In Present Laughter, Callow is joined in the cast by Lysette Anthony, Richard Attlee, Richard Hollis, Marianne Oldham, Robin Pearce and Tilly Tremayne. The production is directed by Michael Rudman (whose revival of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons is currently at the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket) and designed by Paul Farnsworth.

It’s presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions who previously toured the Coward comedy with Rik Mayall playing Essendine in 2003. Following Guildford, the new production will visit Malvern, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Newcastle, Bath, Cambridge, Birmingham and Richmond.

- by Terri Paddock