"Success took me to her bosom like a maternal boa constrictor." – Noel Coward
In Present Laughter we are given a glimpse into the private life of the lovable Garry Essendine, an enduring star of the stage. He has captivated audiences for two decades, and in the following ten days he is preparing to go to Africa, touring with a repertoire of six plays. He has reached a delicate age when his confidence is being shaken a little by advancing years but his ego is maintaining its grip on his colleagues and friends. How Garry manages to balance his life with his amours, his colleagues, his estranged wife, his household and a dizzy young playwright will fill your evening with great enjoyment.
Noel Coward wrote Present Laughter in 1939 perhaps soon after quipping – "My body has certainly wandered a good deal, but I have an uneasy suspicion that my mind has not wandered enough" – but the beginning of WW2 delayed its production for a number of years. Coward played the part of Garry in the first production and it is said that Present Laughter was a semi-autobiographical account of his life at that time, and as one critic put it, “a comic self-caricature”.
Coward’s prolific output includes more than 50 plays, more than a dozen musicals, operetta, poetry, hundreds of songs, sketches, comic reviews, several volumes of short stories, film scripts and three volumes of autobiography. The Times of London ranked his plays in “the classical tradition of Congreve, Sheridan, Wilde and Shaw”, and the previously named New Theatre in London is now the Noel Coward Theatre.
He was knighted in 1969 and elected to the Royal Society of Literature. He also received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. Born in 1899 he died in 1973 with his epitaph reading “A talent to amuse”. Another Coward quip is appropriate here: "Someday I suspect, when Jesus has definitely got me for a sunbeam, my works may be adequately assessed."
STAG is pleased to welcome back Jonne Finnemore to helm this wonderful play. She has previously directed successful productions of Romeo and Juliet and Lady Windemere’s Fan for STAG in recent years. This year Jonne is celebrating 60 years since she started in theatre.
"That was a Victorian music hall production with a melodrama to finish off the evening, which toured to Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban from their base in Grahamstown in South Africa. And it is perfectly logical to be directing Present Laughter because, apart from trips to the theatre with my grandparents when I was very little (my grandfather having played the comic in many Gilbert & Sullivan productions), at the age of 14 I had read Coward’s first volume of autobiography Present Indicative which stimulated my imagination and I had fallen in love with “theatre”."
Jonne has assembled a fine cast for STAG’s production, including Rachel Negus who featured in Speaking in Tongues earlier this year, and John Cheshire (Rapture, The Philadelphia Story, The Dinner Game, Rough Crossing et al) as Gary Essendine, well known to Melbourne audiences. Also returning to the STAG stage is Luke Smith, who featured prominently in several recent productions at STAG.
Settings once again are designed by Tony Leatch, with lighting provided by Callum Robertson.
Venue: STAG Theatre,Strathmore Community Centre, corner of Loeman and Napier Streets, Strathmore (Melway Reference: 16 H 10)
Date: August 2010