Present Laughter

Original London West End Production with Noel Coward in 1943

1st London West End Revival with Noel Coward / Hugh Sinclair in 1947

2nd London West End Revival with Nigel Patrick in 1965

3rd London West End Revival with Donald Sinden in 1981

4th London West End Revival with Tom Conti in 1993

5th London West End Revival with Peter Bowles in 1996

London Revival (National Theatre) with Alex Jennings in 2007


Comedy by Noel Coward in three acts. Actor, charmer and diva, Garry Essendine is determined to disregard his advancing years and receding hairline by revelling in his endless tantrums and casual affairs. But just as he is about to depart for Africa, he finds himself besieged by a bevvy of would-be seductresses, not to mention his long suffering secretary, his estranged wife and an obsessed young playwright. But as he attempts to disentangle himself from their clutches and demands, the humour escalates, accompanied by Coward's delicious dialogue and sparkling repartee. As he attempts to disentangle himself from their clutches and demands, the sparkling comedy escalates. In more recent productions Essendine's name has often been updated to 'Gary' with just one 'r'.


Original London West End Production with Noel Coward in 1943

Opened 29 April 1943, Closed 3 July 1943 (in repertory) at the Haymarket Theatre

The cast featured NoŽl Coward as 'Garry Essendine' with Joyce Carey as 'Liz Essendine', Jennifer Gray as 'Daphne Stillington', James Donald as 'Roland Maule', Gerald Case as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Judy Campbell as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', Dennis Price as 'Morris Dixon', Beryl Measor as 'Monica Reed', Gwen Floyd as 'Lady Saltburn', Molly Johnson as 'Miss Erikson' and Billy Thatcher as 'Fred'. Directed by Noel Coward with sets by Alick Johnstone and costumes by Edward Molyneux and Victor Stiebel.

Performed four times a week in repertory with This Happy Breed for an eight week season.


1st London West End Revival with Noel Coward / Hugh Sinclair in 1947

Opened 16 April 1947, Closed 21 July 1948 at the Haymarket Theatre

The original cast featured NoŽl Coward as 'Garry Essendine' with Joyce Carey as 'Liz Essendine', Avis Scott as 'Daphne Stillington', Robert Eddison as 'Roland Maule', Gerald Case as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Moira Lister as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', Peter Gray as 'Morris Dixon', Joan Swinstead as 'Monica Reed', Gwen Floyd as 'Lady Saltburn', Daphne Newton as 'Miss Erikson' and Billy Thatcher as 'Fred'. Directed by Noel Coward with sets by Alick Johnstone and costumes by Edward Molyneux and Victor Stiebel.

This was a 'return engagement' of the original 1943 staging, with a few cast changes. Initially scheduled for a 12 week season during which NoŽl Coward played the role of 'Garry Essendine', with Hugh Sinclair taking over from Monday 14 July 1947 for the extended season.


2nd London West End Revival with Nigel Patrick in 1965

Opened 21 April 1965, Closed 5 March 1966 at the Queens Theatre

The original cast featured Nigel Patrick as 'Garry Essendine' with Phyllis Calvert as 'Liz Essendine', Anna Palk as 'Daphne Stillington', Richard Briers as 'Roland Maule', John Lee as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Maxine Audley as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', Graham Payn as 'Morris Dixon', Avice Landon as 'Monica Reed', Jacqueline Maude as 'Lady Saltburn', Shelia Keith as 'Miss Erikson' and Drewe Henley as 'Fred'. Directed by Nigel Patrick with designs by Hutchinson Scott and lighting by Joe Davis.


3rd London West End Revival with Donald Sinden in 1981

Previewed 28 January 1981, Opened 29 January 1981, Closed 7 March 1981 at the Greenwich Theatre
Transferred 11 March 1981, Opened 17 March 1981, Closed 5 December 1981 at the Vaudeville Theatre

The original West End cast at the Vaudeville Theatre featured Donald Sinden as 'Garry Essendine' with Dinah Sheridan as 'Liz Essendine', Belinda Lang as 'Daphne Stillington', Julian Fellowes as 'Roland Maule', Ian Gardiner as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Polly Adams as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', Michael Fleming as 'Morris Dixon', Gwen Watford as 'Monica Reed', Jill Johnson as 'Lady Saltburn', Shelia Mitchell as 'Miss Erikson' and Colin Spaull as 'Fred'. Directed by Alan Strachan with designs by Peter Rice and lighting by John A Williams.

This production was filmed by the BBC, using six cameras, at the Vaudeville Theatre in front of a live audience and was first broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday 16 December 1981 with the full original West End cast apart from Elizabeth Counsel who played the role of 'Joanna Lyppiatt'.


4th London West End Revival with Tom Conti in 1993

Previewed 16 June 1993, Opened 23 June 1993, Closed 18 December 1993 at the Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre)

The original cast featured Tom Conti as 'Gary Essendine' with Judy Loe as 'Liz Essendine', Lucy Robinson as 'Daphne Stillington', James Purefoy as 'Roland Maule', George Pensotti as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Jenny Seagrove as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', James Woolley as 'Morris Dixon', Gabrielle Drake as 'Monica Reed', Rona Anderson as 'Lady Saltburn', Hana-Maria Pravda as 'Miss Erikson' and Martin Sadler as 'Fred'. Directed by Tom Conti with designs by Terry Parsons and lighting by Mark Pritchard.

The setting for this production was updated to the early 1950s.


5th London West End Revival with Peter Bowles in 1996

Previewed 21 February 1996, Opened 27 February 1996, Closed 20 April 1996 at the Aldwych Theatre
Transferred 30 April 1996, Closed 15 June 1996 at the Wyndham's Theatre

The original cast featured Peter Bowles as 'Gary Essendine' with Deborah Grant as 'Liz Essendine', Fleur Bennett as 'Daphne Stillington', David Arneil as ' Roland Maule', David Glover as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Caroline Langrishe 'Joanna Lyppiatt', David Cunningham as 'Morris Dixon', Jennifer Piercey as 'Monica Reed', April Walker as 'Lady Saltburn', Josie Kidd as 'Miss Erikson' and Colin Spaull as 'Fred'. Directed by Richard Olivier with sets by Terry Parsons, costumes by Mark Bailey and lighting by Mark Pritchard.

This was a 're-directed' version of the 1993 production using the same set and lighting - both productions where produced by Bill Kenwright.

"Noel Coward created the character of the actor Garry Essendine, played it when Present Laughter was first staged in 1942, and later confessed that, yes, it was essentially a portrait of himself. And when Peter Bowles is patrolling his exotic cream-and-gold pad in a silk dressing-gown, exuding debonair charm and svelte charisma, you can certainly believe it. He is Coward, plus a tiny black moustache, plus a certain steely aloofness, plus an odd, interesting melancholy somewhere inside. But Garry was never quite Coward, nor was Coward quite Garry... It is the part of Coward which is not Garry that Bowles fails to catch at the Aldwych, and unfortunately it is rather a large part. Whenever he is required to be cool, incisive and a bit formidable, he scores strongly. Whenever he is asked to be a self-obsessed, self-glorifying thespian, he becomes forced and awkward... Nor does Richard Olivier's revival achieve lift-off itself... The supporting cast is pretty uneven in quality and, worse, works too hard to amuse us." The Times

"Peter Bowles does an efficient job as the vain, self-indulgent and self-absorbed thespian, surrounded by lovers and admirers. But, although the champagne flows as he struts around in dapper suits and silk dressing-gown, he never totally inhabits the part. Caroline Langrishe is deliciously cool as a femme fatale while Jennifer Piercy plays it tough as a Miss Moneypenny secretary and Fleur Bennet screeches as a deb who falls for the distinguished actor. But even more than him, the play is showing its age." The Daily Express

"Some plays, such as Twelfth Night, one never tires of seeing. Other plays, such as Coward's Present Laughterare worth occasional re-viewing. But, only two and a bit years after Tom Conti played it in the West End it is back with a new star, Peter Bowles, and director, Richard Olivier, but the same set and lighting. It begins to feel like a mildly amusing guest who obstinately refuses to leave. Frankly, I don't think the play is that durable... If the play survives it is largely as a vehicle for a star-actor, and Peter Bowles certainly gives an unstinting performance. He is suaver than silk, calculatingly theatrical and able to convey the essential solitude under Garry's control-freak exterior. At his best, he is also very funny. Bowles is so good that it is hard to forgive his director for allowing him to indulge in one or two bits of stagily artificial business... Most of the other parts are noisily overplayed, though Deborah Grant lends Garry's wife the right tone of amused tolerance and Jennifer Piercey subtly hints at the waspishness under his secretary's stoicism. But Bowles is the only justification for this all too sudden revival." The Guardian

Present Laughter in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 21 February 1996, opened on 27 February 1996 and closed on 20 April 1996, transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre from 30 April 1996 and closed on 15 June 1996


London Revival (National Theatre) with Alex Jennings in 2007

Previewed 25 September 2007, Opened 2 October 2007, Closed 24 January 2008 (in repertory) at the NT's Lyttelton Theatre

The cast featured Alex Jennings as 'Gary Essendine' with Sara Stewart as 'Liz Essendine', Amy Hall as 'Daphne Stillington', Pip Carter as 'Roland Maule', Simon Wilson as 'Henry Lyppiatt', Lisa Dillon as 'Joanna Lyppiatt', Tim McMullan as 'Morris Dixon', Sarah Woodward as 'Monica Reed', Frances Jeater as 'Lady Saltburn', Anny Tobin as 'Miss Erikson' and Tony Turner as 'Fred'. Directed by Howard Davies with sets by Tim Hatley, costumes by Jenny Beavan, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, music by Dominic Muldowney and sound by Paul Groothuis.

"Real life rarely penetrates Noel Coward's sequined, cocktailed world and, perhaps especially during wartime, he knew his job was to amuse even to the point of escapism. Howard Davies's approach robs the piece of Coward's quintessential lightness of touch. For all that, Alex Jennings's brattish hero, Gary Essendine, is a more penetrating portrayal of the character widely seen as the closest Coward got to autobiography... Jennings's comic timing is a pleasure to behold, which is more than may be said of Tim Hatley's hideous set, all angry turquoise and panels of mirrored tilesbetter suited for a bathroom. Fortunately, there are a couple of other performances worth looking at instead. Sarah Woodward is deliciously caustic as Gary's secretary... And an elegant, icy Sara Stewart is perfect as Garry's ex-wife. But the rest of the performances are so misjudged they set my teeth on edge." The Mail on Sunday

"Some of Noel Coward's plays - he wrote this in 1939 - are beginning to look as dated as that trademark oversized cigarette holder... More than two hours of smart young things revolving around Garry's glow like suicidal moths - celebrity used to be glamorous, but then so did smoking - made me want to interrupt by shouting, 'Don't you know there's a war on?' Director Howard Davies does acknowledge the outbreak of hostilities with a snatch of radio news but Garry is still far more interested in swanning around in his new dressing gown. Alec Jennings is a terrific actor and makes the sickeningly narcissistic Garry almost likeable. And there is a fine performance too from Sarah Woodward as Monica Reed, his long-suffering, acerbic secretary. But, to recall another of his super songs, it could be The Party's Over Now for the lesser of Coward's classics." The Sun

"Alex Jennings makes a perfectly competent job of Essendine, but, despite his well-fortified quiff and gallons of eye shadow, I found it hard to take him entirely seriously when he boasted 'everyone worships me... it's nauseating'. Noel Coward's play about the theatrical set, with their open marriages and endless pursuit of carnal pleasure, must have seemed very racy stuff when it opened in London in 1943... Essendine's wife Liz (a splendidly languid Sara Stewart in twin-set and pearls) says that she had thought of divorcing her errant husband, but never got around to it... The other women that Essendine has in his life account for more permanent waves on the stage than there are in a Montague Dawson. Doors open and shut with monotonous regularity: it is all, as Lisa Dillon's comely temptress Joanna complains at one point, very much like a French farce. Think of it as Boeing-Boeing with posh English accents and you wouldn't be far wrong. Tony Turner and Anny Tobin put in stock turns as the servants, and there is an edgy, compelling performance from Pip Carter as a wannabe playwright with a crush on Essendine... With the dependable Howard Davies directing, it looks very stylish indeed. Someone with a bit more charisma, sex appeal and grandeur in the leading role could, however, have turned this into something really special." The Sunday Telegraph

Present Laughter in London at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre previewed from 25 September 2007, opened on 2 October 2007 and closed 24 January 2008 (in repertory)