REVIEW: Present Laughter, St James Theater, Broadway (2017)

Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s straightforward and gently comical production of Noel Coward’s comedy is enjoyable to watch thanks to a strong central performance from Kevin Kline.

(c)Joan Marcus

Intrigues, secrets, affairs and a man worried about his future career now that he is in his fifties all lie at the heart of this deliciously chaotic play that while showing some signs of age is brought vividly life thanks to the lively performances from the cast.

Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Present Laughter is given a warm and affectionate revival that really makes the most of the comedy from the off as actor Garry Essendine attempts to get rid of debutante Daphne who stayed at his after losing her latch key (which as we see is a common excuse) and thinks they are embarking on a great romance. The build up is slow, but it does give the audience a chance to understand Garry and how he copes with awkward situations of which there are many.

Everything feels exaggerated and over the top, but this works well for the characterisations and how self-absorbed they tend to be. In particular Garry himself who seems to use overacting as a way to hide his insecurities and fears, particularly as he loses control over situations such as being seduced by a friend’s wife and attempting to get rid of an oddball playwright who seems obsessed with getting Garry’s attention.

The production is definitely lively in all of the right places, with the barbed conversations between Garry and his secretary Monica proving to be particularly delightful. However, it does feel like towards the end the energy levels which were so high during the first act seem to be running low in the second with some of the jokes feeling as they are falling flat.

Despite this, the production actually highlights the sadness and anxieties that lie underneath Garry’s flamboyancy – particularly captured in the moments in which he is all alone towards the end before the chaos explodes again.

This is consistently and wonderfully expressed in Kevin Kline’s performance as Garry- his expressions tinged with sadness even as he delivers a witty and sharp line. But is also a wonderfully flamboyant and colourful performance, filled with detail that forms a wonderful centre to everything that happens throughout.

But he is also surrounded by some wonderful support including Kate Burton as Garry’s estranged wife Liz, offering a sophisticated and calm performance while Cobie Smulders is delightful as the seductive and glamorous Joana. Kristine Nielson offers nicely sharp performance as Monica and Bhavesh Patel as the eccentric Roland Maule perhaps overplays the writer’s enthusiasm but still offers a wonderful energy.

Overall, it is an enjoyable production that is lively in places but needed to be slightly more consistent in its energy levels to keep the comedy really flying high.

By Emma Clarendon

Present Laughter is available to watch through Broadway HD.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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