Present Laughter is one of Noel Coward’s most popular plays and its main character, Gary Essendine, an actor with a melodramatic temperament, was said by the author to be a parody of himself.
As such, the performance of James King in that role was somewhat disappointing. Coward’s comedy characters tend to be more stereotypes than realistic and I had expected some flamboyance, campness, near-swoons – fitting the lines spoken. Instead I found a peculiar gruffness, almost as though the ‘maleness’ of the character should never be uncertain. On the positive side, James did put some effort into the spoilt behaviour and near-tantrums that are also a part of Gary’s character, but without the core being right it wasn’t enough. I focus on this point simple because this is one of those plays dominated by the central character and if that is not done right, it’s very hard to make the play work whatever the rest of the cast does.
At the other end of the scale, Mike Brooks’ performance as uber-fan Roland Maule was perhaps a little too over-the-top in comparison; it served to remind us that the balance was out somewhere. With a stronger performer of Gary, Roland may have fitted better.
Lest we drown in negativity, I should mention some positive points. For me, those who had got their parts down to a tee were Juliet Grundy as Gary’s all-knowing wife, Liz, Rebecca Gardner-Tildesley who opened the show marvellously as the jittery Daphne, and Coralie Hammond as the brusque and always-smoking housekeeper, Miss Erikson.
Altogether a bit pedestrian and unbalanced – with some better moments when the right people were on stage.