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New Era - Present Laughter

13th to 21st March 2009.

Here is the NWN review.

Brave move to play Coward

Noel Coward's Present Laughter, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Friday, March 13 to Saturday, March 21

"A nice setting" exclaimed a member of the audience as the plush red curtains swept open to reveal a most impressive interior. The tasteful green walls were adorned with 15 framed photos, all of one man - Gary Essendine.

We couldn't wait to see how Stephen Bennett portrayed the great man, a challenging role written by Noel Coward for himself. Of course we had to wait. The build-up to Gary's entrance was well done. When he eventually came on stage, in one of his 18 silk dressing gowns, Bennett rose to the challenge.

Janet Bennett's direction presented a credible support-group around the star. His cool, manipulative wife Liz was played by a haughty Kathleen Ray. Liz and the other women were most elegant and fashionable, except for funny, cigarette-drooping Miss Erikson from Scandinavia, in her trainers and white socks.

Were we really in 1954 as the programme stated or 1939 when the play was first penned? Miss Erikson told Gary about her German medium. He asks "Is she a spy?" In the 50s the friend would probably have been Russian. The delightful continuity tunes between acts also suggested 1930s.

Instead of being bombarded by Cowardly verbal wit, the audience derived most laughs from visual comedy. Gary amused by repeatedly smoothing his hair in front of the mirror. The tuning of farcical entrances and exits was precise. Fred was a singular butler. There were giggles every time the excellent David Tute appeared as the nutty "young" writer Roland Maule, with his excruciating handshake: mad, wearing bright yellow and very keen on Chekhov.

The end of the third scene was most satisfying. The final scene opened with a rather dull office session. Maybe we missed the jokes. However, the high point of the play was reached when each character in turn announced that he or she was to accompany Gary on his theatrical tour of Africa. "The great man" ends up on floor in a temper tantrum.