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Present Laughter

I’ve not been to the Malvern Theatres for a while, as there’s been a bit of a dull patch in their programme, with little that I’m interested in. This week though they did have a play showing that I particularly wanted to watch, so I used my theatre membership card to buy myself a standby ticket to the Saturday matinee. 

The play was Present Laughter by Noel Coward. I quite enjoy Coward’s plays, though the witty repartee gets a bit wearing after a while. However, the main attraction for me was that the lead role was played by Samuel West, the son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales. Sam was a friend of Christopher’s at Oxford thirty years ago. They were at different colleges, reading different subjects, but were both members of the university archery club. In Christopher’s case, that was because archery was one of his major pastimes and he was pretty good at it. As I understand it, Sam had already decided he wanted to be an actor, and joined the archery club as he thought that being able to handle a bow and arrows would potentially be a useful skill to have on his CV. So Christopher taught Sam to shoot, and thereafter watched his acting career develop with interest.  Quite often, we’d be watching some middlebrow documentary on the TV, when Christopher would say “That’s Sam!” – he had quite a steady career at one point doing voice overs and narrations. I remember that we also went to Stratford to see Sam play Hamlet; not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but definitely an iconic role.  So Christopher would have fully expected me to make a point of going to Malvern Theatres to watch Sam, no matter what the play was that he was in.

I realised half way through the first act that I’d seen Present Laughter before, and that it was vintage Coward – and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. The witty repartee was off the scale, and the main characters were ruthlessly selfish. Sam plays an ageing actor who for some reason inspires devotion in all those around him. Women (and men) throw themselves at him, and he behaves extremely badly with tantrums, hissy fits, and casual affairs, all while taking for granted the unwavering support of those around him. It’s a light comedy, that at times got dangerously close to being a farce. It was snort-out-loud funny in places, and was certainly very well acted by the main leads who all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. 

I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, but that was largely because several of the main characters were so unlikeable. But it was a pleasant enough way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and I was pleased to see that the theatre was nearly full. My standby ticket was quite a lot further back in the stalls than it usually is. I’ll continue to keep an interested eye out for Sam’s career, as I know Christopher would have expected me to. If he can play to a very nearly full house in Malvern on a Saturday afternoon, with coaches waiting outside to collect punters from all over the West Midlands, he can’t be doing too badly!