Present Laughter At The Old Vic: Andrew Scott Sparkles As An Overstretched Diva
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Andrew Scott may be best known for scene-stealing performances as Holmes’s arch-enemy Moriarty in Sherlock and the ‘hot priest’ in Fleabag. But on stage at the Old Vic he is the star turn in a scintillating revival of Noël Coward’s 1939 comedy Present Laughter. He is brilliantly funny as the 40-year-old narcissistic matinee idol Garry Essendine in the throes of an early midlife crisis.
About to embark on a stage tour of Africa, he is beset by competing attentions from lovers, his separated wife, staff, colleagues and even a besotted wannabe playwright, as everyone wants a piece of his glamorous persona. Coward (who played the role originally) admitted that the over-theatrical Essendine was a version of himself, in a light-hearted portrait of the temptations and pressures of fame, in which there is a hint of emotional vulnerability behind the glitter.
Director Matthew Warchus has had the revelatory idea of gender-swapping one of Essendine’s lovers (inspired by an early draft of the play), so that he is now presented as bisexual, reflecting Coward’s own gay relationships which of course he couldn’t be open about at the time. With increasingly complicated love intrigues, the show builds into a farcical frenzy, played out on Rob Howell’s stylishly bohemian art deco apartment set.
There is good support from Indira Varma as Essendine’s clear-eyed but still solicitous wife, Sophie Thompson as his pragmatic, maternal secretary and Luke Thallon as a hilarious stalker playwright. But this is Scott’s show, as he revels in the prima donna absurdities of Essendine — a Peter Pan figure wanting to play Peer Gynt — who frantically tries to stay on the celebrity carousel, while inwardly perhaps longing to get off.
Present Laughter, Old Vic, The Cut SE1 8NB. Tickets £8.50£125, until 10 August 2019.
Last Updated 28 June 2019