Multi award-winning NT stalwart Alex Jennings stars as the flamboyantly vain and devastatingly handsome and charismatic charmer Garry Essendine, a matinee idol who is suave, hedonistic and too old, says his wife, to be having numerous affairs. Garry’s line in harmless, infatuated debutantes is largely tolerated but playing closer to home is not. Just before he escapes on tour to Africa, the full extent of his misdemeanours is discovered. And all hell breaks loose.
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Written in 1939, Present Laughter premiered in 1942, just as privileged lives such as Garry’s were threatened with fundamental social change. The playwright penned the play as a vehicle for his own talent, with a lead role that was dangerously close to being autobiographical.
Jennings’ myriad NT credits include The Alchemist, Stuff Happens, His Girl Friday, The Relapse and Albert Speer, while he made his musical debut taking over as Henry Higgins in the NT’s production of My Fair Lady in the West End; his raft of prizes include three Laurence Olivier Awards. He was recently seen on screen in The Queen.
Present Laughter is directed by NT associate director Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley with costumes by Jenny Beavan. The team previously collaborated on the multi award-winning 2001 production of Coward’s Private Lives, starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, which transferred from the West End to Broadway.
For Whatsonstage.com TV, we were on hand for the Present Laughter curtain call and post-performance drinks at the National Theatre. Amongst our TV interviewees are cast members Pip Carter, Amy Hall, Frances Jeater, Tim McMullan, Sara Stewart, Sarah Woodward and leading man Alex Jennings who assures us that Coward is “not all cocktails and cigarette holders”. Also in the cast are Lisa Dillon, Tony Turner and Simon Wilson.
- by Terri Paddock