Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Present Laughter: Brighton Little Theatre

Present Laughter
By Noel Coward
Directed by Leigh Ward
Brighton Little Theatre
11th – 17th March

Lounging in between his grand piano and drinks cabinets, in the presence of an ornate self-portrait, Garry Essendine prepares for his upcoming African tour in his elaborate Art Deco residence. Prone to overacting as much onstage as off, Garry’s home is frequently frequented by friends, family and the more obsessed of his fans. Within the flurry of houseguests, we are introduced to Garry’s long-suffering wife Liz, his even longer suffering secretary Monica, inept housestaff and a parade of others who lay at the root of his interminable morning headaches. This is Coward at his best, with Garry’s character modelled in his own likeness and many of the characters rumoured to be based on the cast of his life.

Towering above other cast members, Paul Morley, playing Essendine, captivates the audience as he waltzes around the set with graceful sweeps of his long limbs and extravagant gestures; exercising every element of his acting repertoire to portray the finest qualities that Coward is known for. Indeed, the entire cast perfectly create their own character’s individual traits, quirks and passions with great aplomb. Tess Gill’s portrayal of Garry’s overworked and underappreciated secretary is wonderfully clipped and candid as she tries to control her hedonistic employer. Charlotte Anne Atkinson’s deliciously over-enthusiastic Daphne is uproarious, and the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking housekeeper, played by Mimi Goddard, simply drips with indifference.

There is always a danger of overacting in a farce, especially one penned by Coward; larger than life characters can so easily be overplayed. However, the actors of Brighton Little Theatre walk the delicate tightrope magnificently. Admittedly, some witty lines are lost or fail to be delivered in a way that gives full punch; as with most of Coward’s work, particularly tricky use of language and rhythm poses pacing challenges for even the most experienced actors, who are required to vigilantly keep quick time so that the play remains in full swing. However, on the whole, this production is as fluid as it is funny with hysterical laughter rising to fill the air throughout.

This is clearly a show loved by a director who knows how to put on a Coward. With an impressive and sumptuous set, a cast who bring every character to life through sharp wit and comic timing, and seamless scene transitions, this is nothing short of a jolly romp of tumultuous pleasure.

4/5

Brighton Little Theatre