The Black Mirror and Fleabag star stands out amongst a confusing plot in this trendy revival of Noël Coward’s comedy – ★★★½
When one door closes for Andrew Scott, another one opens. Not long after an intense performance in Smithereens, the Irish actor plays another character on the brink of his own unique breakdown.
Enter Garry Essendine, through one of the many doors on Rob Howell’s American sitcom-like set. The obnoxious and narcissistic comedy actor, who converses with several eccentric characters ahead of his tour of Africa, is in many ways like Peter Pan – a male with a colourful wardrobe who refuses to grow up.
Matthew Warchus directs the fast-moving farce, one which is particularly tough to follow. As characters enter and leave the stage, it becomes rather difficult to keep up with the affairs of Mr Essendine, with several scene changes (accompanied by excellent modern song choices by Simon Walker and mistaken by many as the end of the first half) providing some much needed recalibration. Such an artistic decision was likely made to symbolise the fast-moving world of celebrity, but it only makes it harder to navigate the nonsense.
When the plot is a clutter of short, comic interactions, it falls on the impressive cast to provide some clarity and exposition. Indira Varma (Exit the King) gives another humorous portrayal of a wife plagued by a dramatic husband, while Luke Thallon gives a particularly notable performance as the frolicking fanboy Roland Maule.
As for Scott, Coward’s crisis-ridden actor is not too deviant from the Sherlock star’s typical role of an emotionally fragile and complex individual. Much like his remarkable breakdown in Smithereens, it’s Essendine’s many tantrums and rants across the 150-minute production which are the most comical aspects of his performance, his growing annoyance with other characters is a relatable emotion when the fluctuating plot becomes too much to bear.
“Have you ever seen me over-act,” Essendine asks, shocked and offended. As one of the finest actors at present, Scott continues to masterfully balance exposition and the enigmatic in Present Laughter, in a way which is striking in amongst the farce.
This review is of a preview performance. Due to poor projection from the cast, inaccessible provisions for deaf patrons and where I was seated, I was unable to fully enjoy this production. This review is based upon the few areas of the play which I was able to follow and understand.
Present Laughter is now playing at The Old Vic Theatre until 10 August.