‘Present Laughter’ review – Andrew Scott is striking in Nöel Coward’s melodrama

The Black Mirror and Fleabag star navigates Coward’s hyperbolic play with chaotic emotion and excellent comic timing – ★★★★

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.

In many ways an exaggeration of Shakespeare – with several love triangles, a blend of comedy and tragedy and a Twelfth Night-inspired title – Present Laughter is a fitting piece for Scott (whose 2017 performance of Hamlet reached widespread critical acclaim). In a lead role not too far removed from his typical casting as broken and enigmatic individuals, Scott once again radiates passion – complete with grandiose-style tantrums commonly associated the Bard’s work – before concluding with heart-wrenching tragedy.

All of this takes place under the flamboyant and free-flowing direction of Matthew Warchus, keeping track and pace mostly seamlessly as new characters enter Garry’s residence (albeit for a couple of long stage resets which would be worthy of a short interval).

In a new take on Coward’s tale, the Old Vic artistic director partakes in gender-swapping, in turn making Garry bisexual. Producer Harry becomes Helen (played by Suzie Toase) and his wife Joanna switches to Joe (whom Enzo Cilenti, rather bizarrely, gives several accents to across the performance, from French to American to Italian). The artistic decision culminates well in the second half to give a fresh look at Garry’s monologue on sex and love.

Meanwhile, of those roles which remain the same, The Inheritance‘s Luke Thallon is wild and hysterical as playwright and fanboy Roland Maule. Exit the King‘s Indira Varma once again plays the role of a long-suffering wife with elegance, and Sophie Thompson (Four Weddings and a Funeral) gives a warm performance as Garry’s Scottish secretary.

A 150-minute comedy about fame and celebrity, how fitting it is for Scott to star in Present Laughter whilst in his prime, demonstrating his talent as a true entertainer and showman.

Present Laughter is now playing at The Old Vic Theatre until 10 August.

Production Images: Manuel Harlan.

Disclaimer: After experiencing difficulties hearing the performance on my first visit, The Old Vic very kindly provided me with free tickets to see the show again. I was not expected to write a review as a result.

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