Present Laughter – Andrew Scott’s brilliant performance in the National Theatre’s Production makes Noel Coward’s play sparkle

Noel Coward’s furiously funny farce is given a new lease of life in this frenzied production at the Old Vic. Largely a vehicle for Andrew Scott’s brilliant incarnation of preening thesp Garry Essendine, the play nonetheless benefits from a fine ensemble cast that add depth and substance to what might otherwise have been just a witty confection.

Sophie Thompson (probably best known as dotty Sheila from the Detectorists) has tremendous fun as Garry’s maternal secretary, while Joshua Hill is very good as his cocksure valet. Indira Varma is excellent as Garry’s ex-wife, lending much needed ballast to proceedings, but the most intriguing part goes to Enzo Cilenti as the predatory Joe. Those familiar with the play may wonder at the decision to swap out vampish Joanne for Joe. It certainly turns the play on its head, at a stroke making almost the entire cast bisexual, and is a clever way to give the play a contemporary gloss.

Not that contemporary relevance is the keystone of this delightful production, which never strays too far from an examination of vain, self-regarding, insufferable Essendine. Fortunate, then, that Scott plays him so well that he never loses our sympathy, allowing Coward’s text to sparkle in a evening that zips along with confidence and verve.