Present Laughter

Present Laughter

"Present Laughter" is a comedic play written by Noel Coward in 1939 and first staged in 1942 as part of a double bill with his lower middle-class domestic drama "This Happy Breed"; later the double bill was expanded to include Coward's new play "Blithe Spirit". Coward himself starred in "Present Laughter" during the original run; later productions have featured actors such as Simon Callow and Ian McKellen in the lead role. The play has enjoyed numerous revivals - including one in 1956 with Coward himself reprising the Essendine role - and is currently published in Methuen's "Noel Coward: Collected Plays Volume Four".

The plot

The plot, which has often been regarded as being semi-autobiographical, follows a few days in the life of successful and self-obsessed actor Garry Essendine as he prepares to travel for a touring commitment. Amid a series of events bordering on farce, Garry must deal with interruptions from numerous women who want to seduce him (including the stagestruck young girl, Daphne Stillington, and the devious Joanna Lyppiatt), placate his long-suffering secretary Monica Reed, avoid his estranged wife Liz Essendine, be confronted by a crazed young playwright named Roland Maule, and overcome his fear of his own approaching fortieth birthday and suggested impending mid-life crisis. Essendine is very rarely off-stage, his many monologues and dramatic scenes contributing to this challenging and attractive Coward role.

Origin of the title

The play's title comes from a song in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", which urges "carpe diem" ("present mirth hath present laughter"). Given Essendine's frequent (and frequently overblown) concerns over his own aging and mortality, the title can certainly be seen as ironic.

Later productions

The play has been regularly revived. Notable players of the role of Garry Essendine include Nigel Patrick (1965), Albert Finney (1977), Peter O'Toole (1978), Donald Sinden (1981), Tom Conti (1993), Peter Bowles (1996), Ian McKellen (1998), Rik Mayall (2003), James Knight (2006), Jamie Goodwin (2006), Simon Callow (2006), and Victor Garber (2007). As many of the star actors have been significantly older than the fortyish Garry when they played the part the text has sometimes been changed to refer to his imminent "fiftieth" birthday.The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has also performed this show, in 2003, with Brent Harris in the lead role and Kim Rhodes (from the Disney Channel's "Suite Life") in the role of Daphne.London's National Theatre is reviving the play Sep 2007-Jan 2008, with Alex Jennings in the lead.

Broadway history

After its debut in 1942, it first appeared on stage in the United States on October 29, 1946, when it debuted at the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway. It featured Clifton Webb as Essendine. It closed in March of the following year after only 158 performances.

It enjoyed a brief six-show run in 1958 at the Belasco Theatre in repertory, with Coward again as Garry and Eva Gabor as Joanna.

In 1982, George C. Scott directed and starred in a revival at Circle in the Square Theatre, which featured the Broadway debut of Nathan Lane as Roland Maule. It also featured Kate Burton as Daphne, Christine Lahti as Joanna and Jim Piddock as Fred. It ran for 175 performances.

In 1996, Frank Langella starred as Essendine and Allison Janney played Liz. This also ran for 175 performances at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

The last revival was in 2008 at the Main Street Theater in Houston, Texas.

External links

*ibdb show|id=7223|name=Present Laughter

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