Review: Present Laughter, Radio 4

“There’s something awfully sad about happiness isn’t there”

Casting is everything and Celia de Wolff hits the jackpot with her radio production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter for Radio 4 by putting Samuel West into the main role of Garry Essendine, the self-obsessed actor at the centre of a social maelstrom caused by his imminent departure on a theatre tour of Africa. West perfectly captures the outraged vanity of a man upset by the temerity of life letting him turn 40 and exasperated by the endless roll-call of people who either want to bid him farewell or can’t bear to see him go.

And what a roll-call it is – from top quality classic actors to top notch fresh talent, it sparkles from top to bottom as characters rattle in and out of the offices and spare rooms of Essendine’s house, marshalled by his ever-tolerant secretary Monica, voiced beautifully by a purring Frances Barber. Janie Dee shines as his estranged wife; Susannah Harker is raucous fun as the woman married to Jonathan Coy’s Henry, having an affair with Anthony Calf’s Morris and determined to philander her way into Garry’s bed; and Lily James and Freddie Fox are both good as a pair of besotted youngsters, the former an aspiring actress and the latter a would-be playwright, both determined to have their way with him.

There’s not too much more to say than that it’s a highly entertaining 90 minutes of radio and well worth the listen. The cast all flirt excellently with the barbed wit of Coward’s script, all sharp ripostes and offhand remarks of entitled insouciance which are gossamer-light but still carry much weight when performed with such quality.  


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