There is a play that I particularly hate; in fact I hate it so much that in my end of year blog last year I wrote that there were no circumstances under which I wanted to see it ever, ever again. That play is, of course Present Laughter, currently drawing well deserved standing ovations at The Old Vic with Andrew Scott as a winning Gary Essendine and I am sitting here trying to work out how he did it.
Well, the director Matthew Warchus is clearly the main reason. This jaded, old, unfunny play gets a snort of theatrical cocaine in the form of some jolly funny gender switching, some brilliant supporting performances and, of course, that very clever actor Mr Scott. After this, I would probably pay to listen to him read the ingredient list on a crisp packet.
His Hamlet was a revelation but he is not reprising his Hamlet here. What makes his Gary Essendine so appealing is there appears to be a real, totally bonkers person inside him. The physicality of his performance recalls Basil Fawlty but there is also a splash of Graham Norton, and a dash of Hugh Grant. Mercifully there is no posturing around the stage in a smoking jacket.
It is naughty, genuinely funny and oddly topical. The wigging Essendine administers to aspiring playwright Roland Maule could be usefully addressed to a number of modern playwrights:
“To begin with your play is not a play at all. It’s a meaningless jumble of adolescent, pseudo intellectual poppycock.”
And the running gag about the dangers of appearing in Peer Gynt has additional piquancy ahead of the National’s new production which opens on Thursday.
So a big thank you to my lovely Twitter mate @lucy_corke whose determination to fight her own phobia of Present Laughter, combined with my daughter’s horror at the thought of missing Mr Scott on stage, made me book too- fear of missing out.
This is the funniest play I have seen since Christopher Luscombe’s Twelfth Night at Stratford last year, a double coincidence as the title of Coward’s play comes, of course, from Twelfth Night and there was Mr Luscombe in the audience tonight.
It’s on until August 10 and shockingly, it isn’t sold out. If you haven’t booked because you don’t like Noel Coward, except for Blithe Spirit (everyone likes that), because you’ve had some of your best naps during Present Laughter and you’ve sworn never to go again then please do join me in eating your words – I promise you it’s absolutely delicious!