Noel Coward wrote the star role in Present Laughter for himself – a vain middle-aged matinee idol, clad for most of the play in a nice line of silky pyjamas and dressing gowns, trailed by a succession of glamorous women who simply adore him and his witty and typically acidic one-liners.
It’s a role made in heaven and the debonair Richard Holliss who plays Garry Essendine laps up the attentions of the sophisticated circle of both new and old friends who come calling at his London studio flat in the 1930s – with frequent glances in the mirror, just to ensure that he and his possibly receding hairline are immaculately presented.
Director Michael Philips of the Global Theatre Company, which is mainly based in north east London, has selected a sterling cast for this Coward period piece of self-cariacature, with many of the characters based on his own inner-circle including his pragmatic secretary, played to perfection by Chris Holliss who knows him “less intimately than some….but better than most” after 17 years at his service, along with his not quite ex-wife Liz (Elaine Elliott) who has seen it all, but can’t quite let go.
Keith Cummings is valet Fred, who memorably carries a tray loaded with a bath towel and little rubber duck, to console one of Essendine’s abandoned women who is “weeping and wailing” in the bathroom. June Gray is the grudging maid Miss Erikson, dressed in a pinafore, who raises many laughs with her monosyllabic treatment of the women who emerge from “the spare room” in search of breakfast, oh-so coyly dressed in Essendine’s pyjamas.
Jennifer Dorian is the gushing Daphne, a wannabe starlet, Rose Floyd her aristocratic aunt, and Suzanne Macpherson very successfully plays the predatory and sophisticated go-getter, Joanna. Prize cameo role goes to Lee Ocsko, “a beastly young man from Uckfield” who appears as the Essendine obsessed playwright Roland Maule, looking like an Oliver Reed on speed, who desires to hug or maul just about everyone within his range.
Chris Millington is Henry and Adam Elms, Morris, two business associates. All are splendidly dressed from a vintage wardrobe managed by Christine Fryers in this well paced production that can only be described as a tour de farce.