Saturday, July 28, 2012

Present Laughter

Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER delights at The Shaw

Noel Coward is the type of playwright who is the darling of those theatre-goers who love escapist, humor-filled productions. In PRESENT LAUGHTER, now being staged in The Shaw’s Festival Theatre, as Coward once said, “There is nothing which helps people or makes them think. This is not a thought provoking play.” It is pure audience pleasing comedy.

The play was written by Coward in 1939. It was first staged in 1942. The title comes from a song in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which illuminates “present mirth hath present laughter.”

The story centers on Garry Essendine, whose mode of operation centers on his drama queen self-obsessed life and dramatic career. The play, which fringes on broad farce, showcases Essendine’s dealing with women who he wants to seduce and who want to seduce him. There is also his long-suffering secretary, his estranged wife, a crazed playwright, and dealing with his ego-centered obsession during a mid-life crisis.

Much of the story and action mimics Coward’s own life. It is so him that Coward played the role on show’s original tour.

The Shaw production, under the adept directing of David Schurmann, is delightful. William Schmuck’s art deco set enhances the broad interpretation of Coward’s writing, as do the era correct costumes.

Steven Sutcliffe delights as the Coward inspired Garry Essendine. He walks the fine line between comedy and farce with razor sharp technique. This is a delightful performance.

Jonathan Tan nearly steals the show as the hyperactive Roland Maule, a young and obsessed playwright. He zooms around the stage, jumping on furniture and creating chaos like a kid with ADHD. Mary Haney is on target as Monica, Garry’s level headed secretary. James Pendarves is believable as the butler, as is Claire Jullien as Garry’s estranged wife.

At times, the vocal projection of the actors is weak. This results in lines and laughs being lost. This is especially true with Corrine Koslo, who plays the role of the maid with an unnecessary cigarette clench tightly in her mouth, cutting off articulation and projection.

Capsule judgement: Shaw’s PRESENT LAUGHTER is a total delight which features fine acting, good pacing, visual delights and high energy. There’s nothing much to learn, but there is a lot of laughter from this classic play.