Present mirth hath present laughter
What’s to come is still unsure
In delay there lies no plenty
WHAT is it about the febrile post-referendum atmosphere that makes us find pertinent references everywhere we turn? Bristol Old Vic’s powerful King Lear resonates with them, and even Noel Coward’s gloriously frothy comedy of luvvies and their hangers-on strikes an oddly topical chord with its title derived from the fool’s song in Twelfth Night.
This was always going to be a treat, with the suave Sam West as Coward’s alter ego Garry Essendine, and Phyllis Logan dropping the Scottish accent of Mrs Hughes but retaining the warmth behind the sharp wit to play his loyal secretary Monica Reed.
This production, directed by Stephen Unwin and designed by Simon Higlett, provides everything that the audience could ask for – first-class cast, speaking the sparkling, brittle dialogue with panache, gorgeous set with chandeliers, paintings and grand piano, and fabulous costumes, including Garry’s many silk dressing gowns. Every woman in the theatre must have envied Zoe Boyle, as Joanna Lyppiatt, her Act II seduction gown (and the figure to carry it off).
It is a puzzle why this play is performed less frequently than Private Lives, Blithe Spirit and Hay Fever. It is just as funny and every part provides an opportunity to shine.
As ditzy debutante Daphne Stillington, Daisy Boulton looked divine and fainted exquisitely. Patrick Walshe McBride was the eccentric and obsessive Roland Maule, all waving arms and implausibly long legs, like an over-excited daddy long legs.
Toby Longworth was a proper old steam engine of pomposity as Henry Lyppiatt and Jason Morell nearly exploded with overheated passion and jealousy as his business partner Morris Dixon.
Rebecca Johnson was Liz, Garry’s estranged but not divorced wife, somehow salvaging the finances of “the firm” and the star’s coming African tour from the tangled mess of fans, lovers and hopeless romantics that surround him.
And there were sharply observed comic cameos in the smaller parts of the eccentric spiritualist housekeeper Miss Erikson (Sally Tatum) and racy Fred the valet (Martin Hancock).
But the evening belongs, quite properly, to Sam West, who draws on a vast repertoire of theatrical skills to convey the charm, glamour, injured dignity, wisdom, sheer childishness and professionalism that has kept Garry a star for 20 years and his business partners in clover.
Present Laughter runs at Bath Theatre Royal until 9th July and is followed by the second play in the summer season, Terence Rattigan’s While The Sun Shines.
Photographs by Nobby Clarke