Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stage Presence #3

“Present Laughter”
by Noël Coward
Bath Theatre Royal, 28/04/2006

Garry Essendine, an egotistical but charming 1920s matinee idol, attempts to deny his encroaching middle age and retreating hairline with an exuberant and promiscuous lifestyle. On the eve of an African Tour, Essendine finds his private life increasingly exposed, as he is besieged by an eccentric writer, manipulative girlfriends, his world-weary secretary and his cool and collected ex-wife. Noël Coward’s play is a highly entertaining farce, with rapid-fire wit supported by a variety of hilarious visual pieces. Simon Callow, playing the lead, is everything that the role demands, managing to be both overblown but understated, and entirely convincing. His character’s larger-than-life ego, with voice to match, is neatly juxtaposed with his (comparatively) diminutive height and receding hair. The scenes between Callow and his estranged wife Liz, played by Jessica Turner, or his secretary Monica, played by Tilly Tremayne, are especially enjoyable. Both characters have been such a part of Essendine’s life that they are entirely unfazed by his most pompous outbursts, the actors expertly realising Coward’s dialogue and stage directions. Essendine’s admirers, the naïve, lovesick Daphne (Marianne Oldham) and Joanna (Lysette Anthony), the adulterous and scheming wife of his producer, work well with some gorgeously sharp lines, but are inevitably less empathetic than their fellow female characters. The latter could also be said of the male roles: Roland Maule, the manic, obsessive writer is realised with hysterical energy by Robin Pearce; Morris and Henry, Essendine’s theatre manager and producer (Richard Atlee and Nigel Hastings respectively), remain largely peripheral characters. Richard Hollis, however, brought a suitably rough charm to his portrayal of Essendine’s valet, Fred. The set looks gorgeous, recreating Essendine’s art deco London studio apartment, the minimalist décor dominated by a huge caricature of the character and various photographs of his illustrious acting career, and colour largely limited to Essendine’s taste in silk dressing gowns. The set pieces, including a spiral staircase, piano, coach and inevitable drinks cabinet, are used to keep the audience’s eye roving, which means that the visuals remain as fluid as the dialogue, particularly at times when numerous characters are on stage. In some respects, both the play’s set design - and basic premise - reminded me of Simon Gray’s “Otherwise Engaged”, starring Richard E. Grant, which I caught during it’s run at the Theatre Royal last year. However, that’s where the similarities end. Despite it’s considerable length – the play runs to 2 hours 17 minutes precisely, with a 20 minute interval, and the production was frighteningly punctual – I was engaged from start to finish, and was still laughing after the show. Highly recommended.
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Blogger Atom Boy said...

Simon Callow certainly has grown into the role, I was shocked when I saw that photo! Mind you, I don't think he's ever looked young, even when he was, he's always been middle-aged, hasn't he?

It's not hard to imagine Callow's larger-than-life style suiting a Noel Coward play. In fact, he's probably more suited to the stage in general, although I've never seen him perform.

I'm enjoying reading your stage reviews. The theatre is one of the things I miss most here in Japan. I rarely saw more than 2 or 3 plays a year, but I guess I took it for granted living in close proximity to two good theatres. I know what you mean about the Theatre Royal attracting bigger names, I think it always has done. Despite the caché of it's theatre school, Bristol will always be...well...Bristol...

9:39 pm  
Blogger Khayem said...

In fairness, my inept picture blogging may have horizontally stretched Mr Callow, increasing his girth further!

Although it may seem otherwise, Claire & I only tend to visit the theatre an average of 3 times a year. That said, we didn't go at all in 2005 and seem to have overcompensated this year by squeezing in four so far this year, with another lined up later this month!

Thanks for enjoying the reviews - there'll be plenty more to come...

7:04 am  

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