Noël Coward.

Present Laughter

BBC Radio 4 comedy drama. 1 episode in 2013.

Press Clippings

If Noel Coward's Present Laughter is, as generally agreed, drawn from his own life, he goes beyond self-portrait and self-caricature into unflinching self-laceration.

Pier Productions' new radio version, directed by Celia de Wolff, is a smart romp through the farcical life of preening matinee idol Garry Essendine as those who wish to seduce, serve, berate or befriend him whirl in and out of his flat or hide in adjoining rooms.

Garry is both compliant in and despairing of the louche behaviour and professional neediness he inspires, and Samuel West bridges this schizoid gap with a muscular performance in the role.

It seems that Garry has to be impressed and depressed by successive visitors before he can relinquish his camp, actorly demeanour. It is all very funny, especially when he is paired with his long-time secretary Monica, played with wonderful acidity by Frances Barber.

Preparing for a tour of Africa, Garry swoons at imagined ailments. "I can see myself under a mosquito net fighting for breath," he moans.

"Who with?" retorts Monica, with cut-throat timing.

As Garry's estranged wife Liz, Janie Dee exercises steely control with a hint of motherliness, which is no doubt why he dumps the wannabes and creeps off with her. Despite the posturing and the silk robes, Garry has his own uncertainties, brought on by the horror of his 40th birthday, which West evokes with subtle vocal undertones.

Garry is savage, however, when eviscerating the work of a young playwright (Freddie Fox) and the odd recital style of would-be actress Daphne (Lily James), who pronounces 'singled' as 'sing-led' to his amusement, following that up with''ming-led' to more mocking.

Moria Petty, The Stage, 17th April 2013