Review: Noel Coward’s Present Laughter at Theatre Severn

An aging, theatre idol prone to over-acting, glamorous women, seduction and lies – Noel Coward’s comedy classic Present Laughter was wonderfully brought to life at Theatre Severn.

Noel Coward’s comedy classic Present Laughter performed by Mad Cow Productions
Noel Coward’s comedy classic Present Laughter performed by Mad Cow Productions

Shropshire theatre group Mad Cow Productions pulled out all of the stops for its latest production which packed a theatrical punch; it was classy, funny and cleverly acted.

Coward’s classic farce followed the shenanigans of self-obsessed theatre star Garry Essendine with every act set in his opulent London flat. He is about to embark on a tour of Africa, however, his life has become rather complicated. There’s a posse of women vying for his affections, members of staff having affairs with each other’s wives – and an obsessed playwright from Uckfield who won’t take no for an answer. Inevitably, a farce ensued.

It was a gigantic role, but Sebastian Ashfield effortlessly immersed himself in the role of Garry and made it his own. Capturing Garry’s self-centred nature to a tee, Sebastian had great stage presence. Fiona Hankin was perfectly cast as Essendine’s unflappable secretary Monica Reed who refused to pander to her boss’s egotism and delivered her lines with witty timing; while Emma Hedges warmly brought to life the role of Liz Essendine – Garry’s controlling estranged wife. Credit must also go to Ryan Brown as Garry’s valet, Nikki Holmes as the eccentric Miss Erikson and Ellie Giblin as the minxy Joanna. The cast all came together as a team, and delivered an exciting evening’s entertainment.

This may be an ‘amateur’ theatre group in name, but definitely not in their presentation. Present Laughter is slick and professional. In true Mad Cow style, producers Alex Hinton and Lisa Lowarch left no stone unturned when it came to the scenery and the costumes – all of which were brilliantly ‘Broadway’. That it was staged in Theatre Severn’s intimate Walker Theatre added to the ‘drawing room’ feel of this clever, sophisticated production – and we, the audience, really felt as though we were eavesdropping on a few chaotic weeks of Garry’s life in another of his ‘side’ rooms!

Stylish and sumptuous; fabulous and fun. This unstoppable herd has done it again!

Mad Cow Productions will return to the stage with the Broadway musical The Full Monty from April 19-21 2018 at Theatre Severn.

Review by Claire Dunn