Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Present Laughter review at Theatre Royal Bath – ‘a love letter to theatre’

Samuel West in Present Laughter at Theatre Royal Bath. Photo: Nobby Clark
by -

Quite rightly so, it is no longer acceptable or indeed politically correct, to call actors luvvies. An exception might be made, however for Garry Essendine, the debonair matinée idol in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. On the wrong side of 40, his petulant self-pity is matched only by his roguish self-satisfaction.

Stephen Unwin’s classy revival of Coward`s love letter to the theatre – and to himself – opens the Theatre Royal Bath summer season. Few of Coward`s comedies trip the light fantastic better than this look at a time when celebrity was presented with style and a degree of substance, rather than sledge-hammered home.

Samuel West – whose father Timothy, by coincidence, is currently performing down the road in Bristol Old Vic`s King Lear – is at home with both the sophistication and the wit of the situation, while also finding some of the insecurity and loneliness of fame. Unwin sticks perhaps a little unambitiously to drawing room comedy conventions, especially in the lacklustre first act, with Essendine facing a torrent of interruptions – ranging from a star-struck ingenue (played by Daisy Boulton) to an eccentric young playwright (Patrick Walshe McBride) – as he prepares for a theatrical tour of Africa.

Simon Higlett`s gorgeous set, complete with wrought iron spiral staircase, is a scene-stealer in itself, but the large cast does not always appear to be playing off the same page as West`s thoughtful portrayal. Phyllis Logan lends sardonic authority to Essendine`s besieged secretary Monica, however, while Rebecca Johnson is amiably wry as his wife Liz.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Classy if uneven production of Noel Coward’s love letter to theatre