Present Laughter

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.

Note: In more recent productions Essendine's first name has often been updated to 'Gary' with just one 'r'.

Cancelled West End London Production with Noel Coward in 1939

Original London West End Production with Noel Coward in 1943

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

2nd West End London Revival with Nigel Patrick in 1965

3rd West End London Revival with Donald Sinden in 1981

4th West End London Revival with Tom Conti in 1993

5th West End London Revival with Peter Bowles in 1996

London Revival (National Theatre) with Alex Jennings in 2007

6th West End London Revival with Andrew Scott in 2019

Noel Coward's plays seen recently in London's West End include Emma Rice's stage adaption of Brief Encounter at the Empire Cinema Haymarket in 2008 and 2018; Lindsay Posner's reival of Hay Fever starring Felicity Kendal at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2015; Trevor Nunn's revival of Relative Values starring Patricia Hodge, Caroline Quentin and Rory Bremner at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2014; Michael Blakemore's revival of Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury at the Gielgud Theatre in 2014; Jonathan Kent's revival of Private Lives starring Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor at the Gielgud Theatre in 2013; Roy Marsden's production of Volcano starring Jenny Seagrove, Dawn Steele and Jason Durr at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2012; Anthony Page's revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living starring Tom Burke, Lisa Dillon and Andrew Scott at the Old Vic Theatre in 2010; Peter Hall's revival of The Vortex starring Felicity Kendal and Dan Stevens at the Apollo Theatre in 2008; Christopher Luscombe's revival of Star Quality starring Penelope Keithat the Apollo Theatre in 2001; and Michael Rudman's revival of Fallen Angels starring Felicity Kendal and Frances de la Tour at the Apollo Theatre in 2000.


Cancelled West End London Production with Noel Coward in 1939

Opening on 16/17 October 1939 at the Phoenix Theatre CANCELLED

The two plays Present Laughter (then titled Sweet Sorrow) and This Happy Breed where scheduled to play in repertory with each other, using the same actors, with a pre-West End tour starting at the Manchester Opera House on 18/19 September 1939, followed by a West End run at the Phoenix Theatre from 16/17 October 1939.

The acting company comprised of Noel Coward, Joyce Carey, Leonora Corbett, Robert Eddison, Moya Nugent, John Bailey, Phyllis Calvert, Gwen Floyd, Joan Lang, Beryl Measor, Ralph Michael, and Terence Neill.

Following the declaration of war on Friday 1 September 1939, all cinemas, theatres, and other places of entertainment where closed immediately until further notice. This caused the cancellation of this production, just as rehearsals where starting.


Original West End London Production with Noel Coward in 1943

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

The cast featured Noel 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 designs by Gladys Calthrop.

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

Noel Coward's This Happy Breed - opened on 30 April 1943, and closed on 3 July 1943 (performed four times-a-week in repertory) at the Haymarket Theatre - with a cast that featured Noel Coward as 'Frank Gibbons', Judy Campbell as 'Ethel Gibbons', Billy Thatcher as 'Reg Gibbons', Jennifer Gray as 'Queenie Gibbons', Molly Johnson as 'Vi Gibbons', Gwen Floyd as 'Mrs Flint', Joyce Carey as 'Aunt Sylvia', Gerald Case as 'Bob Mitchell', James Donald as 'Billy Mitchell', Beryl Measor as 'Edie', Dennis Price as 'Sam Leadbitter', and Meg Titheradge as 'Phyllis Blake'.


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

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

The original cast featured Noel Coward as 'Garry Essendine' (up to Saturday 12 July 1947), Hugh Sinclair as 'Garry Essendine' (from Monday 14 July 1947), 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 designs by Gladys Calthrop.

This was a 'return engagement' of the original 1943 staging, with a few cast changes. Initially scheduled for a 12-week season during which Noel Coward played the role of 'Garry Essendine', the production proved successful and was extended, with Hugh Sinclair taking the lead role.


2nd West End London Revival with Nigel Patrick in 1965

Opened 21 April 1965, Closed 5 March 1966 at the Queen's Theatre (now Sondheim 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 West End London 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 cast at London's Greenwich Theatre and the West End's 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 West End London 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 West End London 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)


6th West End London Revival with Andrew Scott in 2019

Previewed 17 June 2019, Opened 25 June 2019, Closed 10 August 2019 at the Old Vic Theatre

A major revival of Noel Coward's comedy Present Laughter in London starring Andrew Scott with Luke Thallon and Sophie Thompson

The cast features Andrew Scott as 'Garry Essendine' with Indira Varma as 'Liz Essendine', Kitty Archer as 'Daphne Stillington', Luke Thallon as 'Roland Maule', Enzo Cilenti as 'Joe Lyppiatt', Suzie Toase as 'Helen Lyppiatt', Abdul Salis as 'Morris Dixon', Sophie Thompson as 'Monica Reed', Liza Sadovy as 'Lady Saltburn' / 'Miss Erikson', and Joshua Hill as 'Fred'.

Directed by Matthew Warchus with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Tim Lutkin and Hugh Vanstone, and sound by Simon Baker.

When this production opened here at the Old Vic Theatre in June 2019, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph hailed Andrew Scott's "revelatory performance," adding that "if you don't understand why Noel Coward is hailed as a genius - and Scott as the man of the moment - here's your proof." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard described how "Andrew Scott is glorious in this revival of Noel Coward's chaotic Thirties caper... strong support comes from Sophie Thompson, suitably caustic as Garry's secretary Monica, and Indira Varma as his elegant, canny and not completely estranged wife Liz... But this is Andrew Scott's show, and he gives a virtuoso performance." Ann Treneman in the Times highlighted that "Andrew Scott is clearly having a blast in Coward's brilliant 1939 farce. He flirts, flounces, flourishes... The bisexual update adds some zest and surprise to a play that can feel just a bit dated when played straight. At some points, there were gasps from the audience and applause too." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail thought that "as Coward's overwrought and oversexed thespian Garry Essendine - a self-portrait by Coward mocking his own grandiosity and sexual peccadilloes - Andrew Scott gives a positively incendiary turn... gorgeous and colourful as the supporting acting is, the show belongs to Scott. He eats it alive and has the audience for dessert." Michael Billington in the Guardian praised how "Andrew Scott gives a virtuosic performance in NoŽl Coward's imperishable 1943 comedy... it is a richly funny performance even if Matthew Warchus's production occasionally displays the frenzy that seems an ingredient of modern comedy." Matt Wolf in the i newspaper said that "Andrew Scott lands the necessary fusillade of laughs while opening a window on to this 1942 play's fretful heart." Neil Norman in the Daily Express explained how Andrew Scott "is perfectly cast as Garry Essendine, the feckless, famous actor at the centre of NoŽl Coward's farcical comedy of theatre folk... The decision to alter the gender of a couple of characters does nothing to illuminate or enhance the play... Indira Varma as estranged wife Liz and Sophie Thompson as loyal secretary Monica are the human heartbeat of the play. Fun, frantic and farcical, it could have been much more."

Andrew Scott's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Leo' in Anthony Page's revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living at the Old Vic Theatre in 2010; 'M' in James Macdonald's production of Mike Bartlett's play Cock at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 2009; 'Alex' in George Perrin's production of Simon Stephens' monologue Sea Wall at the Bush Theatre in 2008 and 2009, the National Theatre's Shed Theatre in 2013, and the Old Vic Theatre in 2018; and 'Mark' in Ian Rickson production of Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol at the Old Vic Theatre and Royal Court Theatre in 2000.

Sophie Thompson's West End theatre credits include the role of 'Lady Bracknell' in Michael Fentiman's revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2018; the role of 'Miss Adelaide' in Gordon Greenberg's revival of the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre in 2016; the double-role of 'Bev' and 'Kathy' in Dominic Cooke's production of Bruce Norris' play Clybourne Park at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2011; the role of 'Tess' in Roger Michell's production of Joanna Murray-Smith's play The Female of the Species at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2008; and the role of 'Amy' in Sam Mendes' revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre) in 1996.

Indira Varma's London stage credits include the role of 'Miss Cutts' in Jamie Lloyd's revival of Harold Pinter's The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios in 2013; the role of 'Olivia' in Michael Grandage's revival of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2008; and the role of 'Natasha' in Dominic Dromgoole's revival of Anton Checkov's Three Sisters, for the Oxford Stage Company, at the Trafalgar Studios in 1999.

Present Laughter in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 17 June 2019, opened on 25 June 2019, and closed on 10 August 2019