Follow one crying eye on

Present Laughter at The Old Vic – rekindling my theatre mania

June 2019 – I’m claiming it was an accident that I went to see ‘Present Laughter’ at the Old Vic on the Saturday night preview. It sort of was. I have been using the TodayTix app recently at the recommendation of one of my younger friends (and it is indeed marvellous, with a personal touch when you contact them directly which I seriously would not have expected) and I noticed they were offering Rush tickets for this play. The production was on my radar to attend; I had seen reference to it on the Graham Norton show and also in my newsfeed because I saw ‘A Christmas Carol’ there in the sale in January and such information tends to follow one around online these days. I have not used this feature before but I was keen to get tickets for the following week and thought I should check to see how it would work. By amazing dexterity I could almost certainly not repeat, I found myself online at exactly the right time and before I knew it, a ticket seemed to be in my basket waiting for me to press BUY.  So I did, and actually now that the reviews are in and the world has once again gone mad for Andrew Scott, I am relieved that I don’t have to worry about missing this stunning performance (although I’d like to go again really – maybe 47 times?).

I grew up with both amateur and provincial repertory drama and am quite comfortable with the traditional play format, also would happily see Noel Coward’s work for light entertainment any time. But this was something else. I confess that, due to the ‘accidental’ nature of my attendance, I had not done a great deal of research and I tend not to read the programme until I’m on the train home, so I was unaware of the changes made to the gender of some of the characters. I was therefore somewhat surprised that Coward had got away with some of the male-on-male (although I ‘intelligently’ assumed that licence had been taken with some of the stage directions!). Twit. Maybe that added to the overall effect though.  I have since read that in some performances people have gasped in shock in places – I’m far too broadminded for that, of course, but still it brings a bit of an edge.

Nearly all the performances were excellent. I particularly enjoyed Sophie Thompson as Monica the secretary – how I wanted to be her (if I could act, which of course I can’t but we can all dream can’t we?). What a wonderful part and played with great arch comic timing.  Indira Varma (Liz) was completely believable, the characters of Daphne and Mr Maule (Kitty Archer and Luke Thallon) energetically and brilliantly portrayed, the manservant Fred (Joshua Hill) a touch of comedic reality and a nice foil to Garry (again, a lovely part) … I could go on but these were my favourites.  Apart from, you guessed it, the magnificent Andrew Scott.

I am a sucker for the stage and enjoy nothing more than to be able to see real emotion and engagement up there – and especially enjoyment – but Garry was on a different level here – just marvellous. Even with impeccable timing and comedic delivery to get all the laughs from the expertly crafted script (a richness of quotable lines here), this part could have come across as two-dimensional. But this was much more than that – an exploration of the real person beneath the matinee idol. How does that guy Scott move so seamlessly from fury and madness to playfulness and near-gentleness then back to face-slapping derangement? He is immensely watchable, intriguing almost, and I described myself as star-struck immediately afterwards, which is of course completely appropriate to this production.

I was in the front row which is not always the best place to see a play, giving, as it does, a sometimes squinty view of the stage. However, it was fantastic to be so up-close to the action, to see the facial expressions completely, to almost feel the raised blood-pressure, the frustration, to witness at close quarters the joyous leaps across the furniture and see the emotions (and sometimes the spit) – and bizarrely to be gently assaulted with multiple balloons rolling off the stage towards the end.

This is what theatre is all about to me (the emotion, not the balloons or the spit – well, perhaps sometimes the spit as long as it doesn’t quite reach me). It doesn’t have to be comedy, although I think that might be my slightly favourite genre, but it needs to evoke that awe of performance, the emotional attachment and the sheer fun somehow.

I must go there more often.  I shall!

Post-script note to self – ‘For the love of God stop being theatrical!!’

PPS – (March 2020) I DID go more often. Many many theatre visits since last June. Perhaps I should write more reviews. I sometimes comment in the blog. Theatres all closed right now though.

Follow one crying eye on