Present Laughter’s tour finishes at Malvern Theatres on Saturday 20th August.
Star Rating *****
Noel Coward’s plays are my self-confessed guilty pleasures, their wit, charm and farcical qualities never fail to bring a smile to my face. The plots are usually predictable, as is most definitely the case with Present Laughter, which arrived in Malvern this week on the final leg of the UK tour it has been embarking upon. Still, this is a five-star production, in my humble opinion and deserves a West End transfer.
Garry Essendine (Samuel West) is a bumptious, self-obsessed performer (Coward is in fact taking the Michael out of himself with this role), he has a bevy of beauties at his beck and call who all claim to have lost their latch key. Whatever happens in the mad-cap world of the glory hunter, he’s not satisfied and perpetually lonely. His secretary, Monica (Phyllis Logan) is used to the comings and goings of young ladies and responds to her boss in a no-nonsense and sarcastic manner, which he undoubtedly deserves. Loyal to the last, though, she is quite taken aback by the arrival of the manic Roland Moule (Patrick Walshe McBride) and takes on an almost Joyce Grenfell style quality when he is let loose in his idol’s office. With young Daphne Stillington (Daisy Boulton) and Joanna Lyppiatt (Zoe Boyle) who is married to Garry’s Producer, Henry (Toby Longworth) both making their intentions abundantly clear, Essendine’s life is already farcical enough. Add his ex-wife, Liz (Rebecca Johnson) to the fray, whom he has never divorced from and who continues to have control over his career, at least, and there’s a recipe for disaster. Did I mention that among his household staff there is a mad Scandinavian Housekeeper, Miss Erikson (Sally Tatum) who doesn’t appear to do much around the place other than ‘bum’ cigarettes!
Not a weak link is present among the cast and there are solid performances throughout. With Samuel West and Phyllis Logan being the instantly recognisable names among the throng, I anticipated a certain standard from them. Phyllis Logan shines on stage as much as she does on-screen. Yes, she is vastly experienced, but let us not forget she has had a lengthy break from treading the boards. She plays comedy and deadpan brilliantly and convinced me that she still has a few tricks up her sleeve where her ability to take on completely different roles, is concerned. Her facial expressions, alone speak volumes, and that is a skill, particularly putting that across in a large auditorium. Samuel West gives a show-stopping performance in the leading role, he is a tour de force. It seems that when you think he’s given the role all he can give it, he takes it up another notch, an inspiration to watch. Taking the star names out of the equation, I felt that the show belonged to Rebecca Johnson, Daisy Boulton and Patrick Walshe McBride. They all connected perfectly with their characters, Johnson was a superb match for West, bringing the right mixture of assertiveness and heart to Liz. Boulton was outstanding as the smitten Daphne, simpering and silly in equal measure. Walshe McBride is a name I will be looking out for in the future, he brings a Frank Spencer meets Basil Fawlty meets Little Britain element to the role of Roland and I felt that he played him as the least predictable of Garry’s ‘fan club’. Sally Tatum’s comic timing as Miss Erikson did not go unnoticed, either, it was spot on and imaginative.
This is a seamless production performed on a spectacular set and not to be missed, definitely one of my must-sees of 2016. Book your tickets here to catch it in Malvern: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk.