Present Laughter

Present Laughter Not Coward’s Finest

Present Laughter is Noel Coward’s autobiographical play, and for that reason I expected more from it. But the entire story simply served to make Coward seem very shallow. It should be a satire of Coward’s life, but instead this production is lacking in the requisite humour needed to make it a comedic parody.

The play opened the season at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake in their Festival Theatre. In this story, Noel Coward calls his main character Garry Essendine, a very popular actor. He’s a player, and women are all over him. Steven Sutcliffe’s Essendine is arrogant, conceited and seemingly bored with most things. This makes one wonder why women are so attracted to him.

The story opens with a woman he just met the night before sleeping in his spare room. His ex-wife drops by and later other women are interested in him. Of all the female characters, the most interesting is his secretary Monica Reed, played by Mary Haney.

Essendine is visited by writer Roland Maule, played by Jonathan Tan. He is over the top, jumping over furniture and bouncing on the sofa. I was reminded of Tom Cruise jumping on the couch on Oprah’s set – he’s a character you will never believe. Again the humour is stretched too far.

While it is not be a fair comparison, I couldn’t help but think about the last Noel Coward play I saw, which was Private Lives with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross. There was crazy physical comedy on that stage, and somehow it worked and was believable. Present Laughter just didn’t quite pass the authenticity test.

The art deco set is beautiful, and suits the 1939 play very well. It’s unfortunate the production did not suit.

Present Laughter continues at the Shaw Festival in repertoire until October 28. Call 1-800-511-7429 or visit for tickets.

Present Laughter
By Noel Coward
Directed by David Shurmann
Performed by Steven Sutcliffe, Claire Jullien, Mary Haney, Mota O’Connell, Julia Course, Patrick McManus, Gray Powell and Jonathan Tan.
Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake
May 3 to October 28, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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