Matthew Warchus

Present Laughter: NT Live

26/01/20

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s hard to believe that National Theatre Live is already celebrating its 10th anniversary. This brilliant initiative, which makes the very best theatrical productions accessible to a much wider audience than they could ever reach on the stage, has been a resounding success. Like many people, we usually view them at the cinema – but there’s something very fitting about seeing this West End winner on the big screen at the Festival Theatre.

The play invites us to witness a few turbulent days in the life of highly successful actor, Garry Essendine (Andrew Scott). Recently turned forty and about to embark on a prestigious tour of Africa, Gary is suffering something of a mid-life crisis and, at the play’s opening, wakes up after a night of drunken debauchery to discover that he has slept with ingenue Daphne Stillington (Kitty Archer). Unfortunately, she is still hanging around his swish apartment, hoping for breakfast and that meaningful relationship he promised her last night.

Her presence is tolerated with little more than a raised eyebrow by Garry’s long-suffering assistant, Monica (Sophie Thompson), and by his ex wife, Liz (Indira Varma), who has long ago abandoned her personal feelings in favour of managing and protecting the Garry Essendine ‘brand.’ Both women know that such indiscretions are parr for the course.

But further complications rear their heads when Garry’s married business associate, Morris (Abdul Salis) confesses to having an affair with Joe (Enzo Cilenti), and it isn’t long before the self-same Joe has arrived at the apartment and is making flirtatious advances to Garry.

Coward fans will know that in the original play, Joe was Joanna, but this gender-swap is an astute move on the part of director, Matthew Warchus, reminding us that Coward was a closeted gay man at a time when such inclinations could never be expressed onstage. As the tempo steadily rises, and the play careers like an out-of-control vehicle from one frenetic scene to the next, it’s no surprise to hear the complaint, ‘I feel like a character in a French farce.’

The actors are all pretty much note-perfect: Luke Thallon is particularly assured as a sycophantic fan prepared to move heaven and earth to be near his idol, while Sophie Thompson is an absolute delight as Monica, enmeshed in a love-hate relationship with her employer and sometimes in danger of veering towards the former. But make no mistake, this show belongs to Scott and his undeniable talent. His embodiment of the vain, childish and self-obsessed Garry Essendine is an absolute comic tour de force. I’ve seen plenty of Noel Coward plays over the years but I’ve never laughed as uproariously as I do at this one.

I think he’d be thoroughly delighted by this version, though, which is fresh and vivacious enough to make me think that I’d like to see more of The Master’s plays reimagined for our times.

There are more top flight theatrical productions scheduled to view at the Festival Theatre. Why not treat yourself?

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Pride

Pride_poster

14/09/14

Set in 1984, at the height of the miner’s strike, Pride tells the true-life story of Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) a young gay activist who manages to persuade a group of like minded-friends to form LGSM (Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners). They start to collect money on behalf of one particular group of strikers, in South Wales and are so successful, It’s not long before the group meets up with likeable Union man, Dai (Paddy Considine). He invites them to the sleepy village of Onllwyn, to meet the miners in person – where inevitably, they encounter resistance from some of the more reactionary inhabitants – but after an initial frosty reception, they start to find allies in some rather unlikely places…

Pride is simply irresistible. Cut from the same cloth as films like The Full Monty and Brassed Off, it features a terrific ensemble cast – Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West are undoubted highlights, but the overall casting is note-perfect. While it occasionally plays for easy laughs, (‘Dai, your gays have arrived!’) it’s never less than entertaining stuff and also takes the opportunity to slip in some genuinely throught-provoking moments.

It would be a cold heart indeed that doesn’t shed tears at the film’s emotional conclusion. Like most ‘true-life’ stories, there remains the conviction that dramatic licence must have been exercised on some of the actual events, but nevertheless, this is a successful slice of drama, snappily directed by Matthew Warchus, wittily scripted by Stephen Beresford and one that manages to keep itself just the right side of sentimentality.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney