Present Laughter



  • Noël Coward's last major comedy, first performedin London in 1943. It was to have been produced in 1939 but the warinterrupted rehearsals and Coward was sent to Paris to open a Britishbureau of propaganda. In 1943 he played the lead, calling it "awonderful part for me and I shall not be too dependent on fractiousleading ladies." The plot concerns the relationship betweenGary Essendine, a self-obsessed actor, and his estranged but stilladoring wife. Approaching 40 and a mid-life crisis, Gary indulgesin brief affairs and ends up being pursued simultaneously by a marriedwoman and a young girl. As his emotional life becomes intolerablycomplicated, he flees back to his wife.

    The play was revived in 1947 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket,but Coward thought the cast "tatty and fifth rate". Hewas deeply mortified when his star, the US actress Mary Martin, saidto Princess Margaret, "Give my best to your sister. Bye-byefor now." When CBS television made plans to broadcast the playin 1956, they told Coward that the script would provoke anguishedprotests from "outraged Methodists in Omaha complaining aboutillicit love being brought into their very homes by me." Hetherefore wrote an expurgated version.