NT Live: Present Laughter” from Old Vic


Thurs, Nov 28th @ 8pm @ movies@ Dungarvan

Noel Coward was one of the most versatile, flamboyant and talented people to work in the theatre in the twentieth century. In the mid-century, his plays were among the most frequently performed in the English-speaking world – and he wrote more than fifty of them. Many of them are still performed regularly, but not nearly as often as many would like them to be. Dublin’s Gate Theatre, in the latter decades of the last century gave us many sparkling, stylish and delightfully articulated  productions, often directed or acted in by that great man of the theatre, Alan Stanford – it was something of a golden age for that type of play.

I love Coward’s plays especially because in them we hear such beautiful speaking of the English language – to act in his plays you have to speak the language as she should be ‘spoke’. The sparkling wit and dialogue are the author’s trademark and he sometimes approaches Wildean levels of brilliance and fun. And he can be a master of comedy. Among his better-known are “Private Lives”, “Hay Fever”, “The Vortex”, “This Happy Breed” and “Blithe Spirit” (a delightful comedy, which has been given in recent years in Carrick-on Suir and Thurles, to list but two productions).Present LaughterPlaywright, composer, produced and actor, Coward (1899 – 1973) began his theatrical career as a child actor at the age of eleven. With the ending of WW1, he wrote his own plays while continuing to appear in revues and comedies. His first great success as both actor and author came with “The Vortex” (1924). He also wrote musicals including “Bitter Sweet” and appeared on stage with such renowned actors as Alfred Lunt, Lynne Fontaine and Gertrude Lawrence – he wrote the role of Amanda in “Private Lives for her. He was a ‘personality’ on the theatrical scene for over fifty years – with dressing gown, silk scarf and long cigarette holder! In 1970 he was knighted for his services to the theatre – an honour he himself no doubt thought was long overdue!

In “Present Laughter”, Gary Essenden, a hugely talented, self-obsessed, charming and emotionally immature actor, is agitated over an upcoming tour of Africa. So much so that his estranged but loving wife, Liz, his secretary, Monica, and his business partners, Henry and Roland, all become enveloped in his all-embracing anxiety. As he frets about the tour and also about turning forty, he indulges in brief love affairs – one of which is with Henry’s wife, Joanna.   Of course, chaos ensues in what has been described as a “perfect piece of theatre”.Present LaughterIt’s Coward at his ‘mighty best’. I saw it quite a few years ago in the West End and thought it a ‘jewel’ and I look forward most eagerly to seeing this production from the Old Vic, the home of great theatre. I look forward to theatre at its best, a look back to an era when authors wrote in carefully crafted sentences and actors delivered the lines with panache and clarity. Don’t miss it if at all possible.

Jim Ryan