Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Review: Present Laughter

The Gate, Theatre, Dublin

This production of Noel Coward's play 'Present Laughter' is a lavish one, sharp and funny, with some fine individual performances. It has the good pace and timing one has come to expect from what is now a Gate Theatre speciality; the presentation of modern English comedy.

There is a brash, almost brutal side to Noel Coward and it comes out in the urbanely chilly character of the play's hero, Garry Essendine, played by Stephen Brennan. Struggling to be 52 but passing himself off as being in his late forties, Brennan is clearly too old for the part. John Kavanagh is also far too old for his part of Roland Maule, a kind of failed writer latching on to the successful star. He clowns his way through, almost as though he had walked in from another playr. Despite this, he earns much laughter.

The rest of the cast do well, particularly the women. Fiona O'Shaughnessy, in the scene where she seduces Essendine, provides a high point in the play -- a silken performance, chilly and ruthless, but effective. Fiona Bell is excellent as Monica Reed, the star's secretary, and Jade Yourell plays an ingenue who is seduced, likes it, and comes back for more.

There is a lot of overacting and the lines are delivered at a sustained high decibel, with tempers getting frayed and then mended. There is some very camp playing from Michael James Ford as the seductress's hypocritical husband, and Peter Gaynor as a man in love with the same roving man-eater, his love a parody of the real thing.

The brilliant lines of a master craftsman carry the whole thing through, however. Paris Jefferson's excessively English accent gives to artificiality a new value and purpose. It all works. Despite the creaking presence, as a shadow in the background, of Father Time plodding on, we live briefly in a golden age. The audience loved it.