Present Laughter

Present Laughter
By Noël Coward. Directed by Jeff Watson. Roxy Lane Theatre, Maylands, WA. Aug 11-27, 2023

Present Laughter is a classic comedy by Noël Coward. The latest incarnation, which includes some impressive performances, is playing to very receptive audiences at Roxy Lane.

Originally written in 1939, and not produced until 1942, Present Laughter is usually set in the late thirties or an imaginary 1940s unencumbered by the war. Judging from a line said by Monica this production is set in the 1970s, but this is a little confusing. Costume designers Celeste Lopez and Anna Gervas have created some individually stunning costumes (for example Joanna’s lovely evening gown) but we seem confused as to whether we are in the thirties, seventies or somewhere in between.

Set Designers, director Jeff Watkins and co-director Sherrie Walsh-Bowser have created a faithful, “back of the script” reproduction set, built by Linda Redman - not an easy feat on the compact Roxy stage. The set is beautifully decorated with the piece-de-resistance a portrait of central character Garry Essendine - beautifully painted by Meredith Jackson. Lighting and sound are well managed by Luke Heath.

Present Laughter follows flamboyant, egotistical actor Garry Essendine over a few days as he attempts to organise an imminent African theatrical tour, amidst numerous interruptions.

Jeff Watkins plays the central role while also directing and handles both well. Meredith Hunter is excellent as his long-suffering secretary, with Cathy Parr almost unrecognisable and lovely as his Swedish housekeeper Miss Erikson. Peter JD Clarke makes an impressive theatrical debut, giving valet Fred distinctive character.

Sharon Thomas has lovely presence as Liz, Garry’s estranged wife, but on opening night lacked the familiarity with lines to master the snappy delivery that Coward requires. Jarrod Buttery is convincing as Hugo Lypiatt, while in this production Morris Dixon becomes Marisa Dixon - ably played by Casey Smith.

The regendering of Dixon now gives the Hugo-Joanna (an elegant Ava Haides)-Marissa love triangle a lesbian hypotenuse - something that certainly wouldn’t have been passed by the Lord Chamberlain’s censor in its time.

In smaller roles, Morgan Halket opens the show nicely as sweet-young-thing Daphne, Kris Lockwood makes an impressive cameo as Lady Saltburn and Soren Watkins makes a promising community theatre debut as keen young playwright Roland Maule.

Present Laughter is a great chance to see a classic British comedy.

Kimberley Shaw

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