REVIEW: Present Laughter, Chichester Festival Theatre

Katherine Kingsley and Rufus-Hound''in Present Laughter at Chichester Festival Theatre 'Credit: Johan Persson / ArenaPAL
Katherine Kingsley and Rufus-Hound''in Present Laughter at Chichester Festival Theatre 'Credit: Johan Persson / ArenaPAL

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This time last year I wrote an underwhelmed review of the Chichester season-opener, Forty Years On.

Daniel Evans’ second season at the Festival Theatre opens with Noel Coward’s Present Laughter and – sorry to say – I am equally underwhelmed.

Coward’s words are clever, self-explanatory and – seemingly contrary to director Sean Foley’s view – do not need to be delivered at an unhealthy rate of decibels, something Foley seems to have insisted on, particularly poor Rufus Hound as Garry Essendine, the put-upon protagonist of the piece.

Because of this, Hound’s performance is very much on one level. When he is allowed a quieter moment in the seduction-scene with the excellent Lucy Briggs-Owen (Joanna) he shows his true capabilities.

There’s needless comedy-business which, if the writing were stylised, would fit.

Here it is intrusive and overused; there are only so many times people crossing their legs simultaneously can be funny. Sad to say that on press night some of the cast found the comedy-business hilarious, too.

Tracy-Ann Oberman (as Monica) and Katherine Kingsley (as Liz) are good, but the rest of the performances are just too big, too loud, too unbelievable.

I’m afraid I left the theatre moderately amused, but feeling that Coward had spent two hours hitting me with a sledgehammer rather than whispering sweet nothings.

By James George