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REVIEW: Present Laughter

The Present Laughter cast pictured with director Vanessa Comer, seated second from right.
The Present Laughter cast pictured with director Vanessa Comer, seated second from right.

Stress and the demands of modern living, coupled with the issues of celebritydom, may seem like terribly modern concerns, but here, in The Bear Pit Theatre Company’s take on the classic Noël Coward comedy, they prove to be hilariously timeless.

The company at Rother Street put on these comedies so awfully well. As those who saw their recentish forays with Noises Off, Blithe Spirit, God of Carnage, et al, will know, this modern manners malarkey is the perfect grist to the Bear Pit’s wonderful drama mill. Taking your seat in front of the familiar — yet cunningly redressed — slightly wobbly stage set, you know that in the capable hands of director Vanessa Comer you are in for larks and laughter, and this most certainly does not disappoint.

Written by Coward in 1939, Present Laughter tells the story of actor, charmer and diva, Garry Essendine, who is determined to disregard his advancing years by revelling in endless tantrums and casual affairs. About to depart for Africa, he finds himself besieged by a bevy of would-be seductresses, not to mention his long-suffering secretary, his estranged wife, and an obsessed young playwright. As he attempts to disentangle himself from their clutchess, the sparkling comedy escalates.

The play opens with conniving debutante Daphne Stillington making herself at home at Garry’s the morning after a party. Claire Bradwell plays her with comedic genius, her wide-eyed impishness is enough to conjure joyous chuckling from the audience. She is joined by servants Miss Erikson and Fred, played by Margot McCleary and David Draper respectively as a dour chain-smoking Eastern European and laddish Cockney. The characters are perfectly portrayed, and the exacting standard is maintained as we meet the rest of the cast and the hilarity increases.

Peter Ward inhabits the lead role of the horribly vain but still likeable Garry with tremendous suavity. Anne Bowen as his wise and wicked ex-wife Liz has a whale of a time; while the elegant Ruth Linnett as Joanna Lyppiatt makes a wonderfully quintessential Coward creature. Praise must also go to Viv Tomlinson’s long-suffering personal assistant Monica Reed, and Joe Riley’s intense stalker Roland Maule.

There were a few fluffed lines (but then there are a LOT of words) but a small gripe about this delightful and griping production. Don’t miss it!

Book tickets via www.thebearpit.org.uk or call 01789 403416.

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