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Present Laughter - Roxy Lane Theatre

Reviewed by Jack Bengough

 

Present Laughter is a farcical comedy written by Noel Coward in 1939 and originally performed in 1942. Presently, the show is being bought to life by the team at Roxy Lane Theatre, with the production headed by the directorial team of Jeff Watkins and Sherrliee Walsh-Bowser.

Jeff Watkins, seemingly in a homage to the original production, pulls double duty as both director and lead of the production, playing the role of Garry Essendine. Garry is a somewhat eccentric actor who finds themselves in an unusual predicament wherein three strangers enter his life each thinking they are the missing piece of Garry’s life. Despite being a bit long in the tooth, the script manages to be quite resonant when it comes to themes of sex, personal relationships and the pursuit of artistic endeavours. It has to be mentioned that the show is rather lengthy, with an overall runtime (inclusive of two intermission breaks) coming in close to three hours.


The role of Garry Essendine sees Jeff Watkins bounce across the stage, holding their many affairs in order with a series of rapid quips and witty retorts, with the support of their estranged ex-wife Liz (played by Sharon Thomas) and secretary Monica (Meredith Hunter). Garry is assailed by the bright-eyed Daphne (Morgan Halket), the seductive Joanna (Ava Haides) and the insufferable Roland (Soren Watkins). Supporting this core cast, we have Cathy Parr and Peter JD Clarke playing Garry’s maid and butler respectively, and Jarrod Buttery and Casey Smith as Garry’s manager and producer. While many of these actors delivered exceptional performances, others' difficulties with the script threatened to jeopardize the whole production. Jeff Watkins is the clear standout, maintaining a phenomenal, infectious energy throughout the whole piece, but it is an energy that is only enhanced by the vast intricacies of their castmates' performances.


The production is staged to a masterful quality, with Jim Chantry’s set design plunging the audience into an authentic-feeling space, very evocative of the period of the show's setting. Tied together with props sourced by Linda Redman and a beautiful portrait of the lead by Meredith Jackson, the performance space feels about as close as you could get to a window into another time. Costuming by Celeste Lopez and Anna Gervas is consistently both appropriate to the era and the specific characters' backgrounds.


Present Laughter at Roxy Lane Theatre is a production that can only be recommended under the hopes that the cast is spending their time between shows with a close eye on their scripts, and under the proviso that its audience is willing to sit down for a production a bit longer than what would be typically expected.


Garry Essendine (Jeff Watkins) and Daphne (Morgan Halket)

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the production company.

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