Directing Noël Coward’s “Present Laughter”

“Intrigue! My whole life is enmeshed in intrigue!”

So complains Garry Essendine, leading man of Noël Coward’s stylish comedy Present Laughter.

And, I must admit, having taken on the mantle of directing this production for Reformed Allerton Dramatic Society (RADS) my life has become enmeshed with the best possible kind of intrigue.

Directing a play is no easy task and in the realm of amateur drama, the role requires you to wear a variety of hats. Throw in a complex script by the Master himself, and the task becomes doubly complicated!

Rehearsals for Present Laughter

So how does an amateur company produce a play like Present Laughter, which centres around the fragile glamour of a self-obsessed stage actor and his inner circle in 1930s London?

To answer that question, perhaps I should provide a quick introduction to the play itself.

Present Laughter follows a few days in the life of world-weary matinee idol Garry Essendine before he embarks on an acting tour of Africa. During this time, he must navigate the demands of his inner circle, seduction attempts, a crazed fan – oh, and the small matter of his own midlife crisis.

The play was written in 1939 but did not premiere until 1942, due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The play is definitively set in the interwar period and, in the space of just three years, the world presented in Present Laughter would have seemed a lifetime ago to its first audiences.

In this sense, Present Laughter captures a time and place before the fundamental social change of the war. And this partly reinforces its core message: carpe diem or “seize the day”. Indeed, the play’s title derives from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, where Feste the clown sings:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty,—
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III

For Coward fanatics, the play also has great significance in that its central character, Garry Essendine, was long suspected to be a caricature of Coward’s public persona as a wearer of dressing gowns, always with a witty remark at the ready. Years later, Coward admitted “Garry Essendine is me”.

So, returning to my original question, how does an amateur drama group stage Present Laughter?

By cherishing the source material.

During my time directing rehearsals over the previous weeks, I have been pleased to see just how positively the cast and crew have responded to and worked with the material.

Rehearsals for Present Laughter

Rehearsals have been filled with laughter as one actress discovers the comedic emphasis in a seemingly neutral line of dialogue, or an actor finds his confidence to add physicality to embellish their comedic delivery.

That’s what masterfully written scripts allow actors, both amateur and professional, to do. To find their confidence, expand their acting abilities and, most importantly, have fun in the process.

That’s what the directing experience has taught me so far: trust your material and the rest will follow.

RADS’ production of Present Laughter will be performed from Wednesday 24th May 2023 to Saturday 27th May 2023 at Allerton United Reformed Church Hall.

Doors open at 7 pm and performances start at 7.30 pm.

Tickets can be purchased online now at or on the door (cash only).

Find Allerton United Reformed Church Hall on the corner of Mather Avenue and Booker Avenue, Liverpool, Merseyside, L18 7HD:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Built with

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: