Present Laughter at The Old Vic | Review

Disclaimer: Previously I have been gifted tickets for The Old Vic productions but I purchased my own tickets for Present Laughter.

Show rating: ★★★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★★★

'I knew how deep your longing must be to have someone really to love you, to be with you, when I saw that dreadful prostitute come out of the spare room.'

'That was not a prostitute. It was the husband of one of my dearest friends!'

As he prepares to embark on an overseas tour, star Garry Essendine's colourful life is in danger of spiralling out of control. Engulfed by an escalating identity crisis at his many and various relationships compete for his attention, Garry's few remaining days at home are a chaotic whirlwind of love, sex, panic and soul-searching. - The Old Vic

At the beginning of this year my theatre experience was turned upside down when I saw my first play, after insisting I was solely a musicals person. It was A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic and I walked out with a new found appreciation for plays and the emotions they could make a person feel. Since then The Old Vic have kindly sent me to see another 2 plays and whilst I've found them enjoyable, they haven't quite captured my imagination in the same way. However, that was all changed again when I saw Present Laughter recently.

Present Laughter is my first Noël Coward play and I really had no idea what to expect. From responses on social media I knew it would be funny but I had no idea how much it would grip me and make me cry with laughter. Andrew Scott was the reason I was drawn to this play, I'm a Sherlock fan and for years have been left speechless by his on screen performances, so I jumped at the chance to see him perform live. I might have gone for Andrew Scott but when I left, I left impressed by every single element in the show and every single person on stage. Matthew Warchus did such a remarkable job of directing this play and making it the all round emotional experience it is, it ticks all the boxes and I was so shocked to hear this was the first time he had directed a Noël Coward.

The play follows actor Garry Essendine, played by Andrew Scott, as he enters an identity crisis. Throughout the show you see all of his relationships with various people and how they all intertwine. In the programme Matthew speaks about how in the original script Garry's sexual relationships with both men and women were more subtle but the decision was made to make it more obvious this time and it really worked, as well as it being important bisexual representation. Andrew felt so natural in the role, when  he came on stage you felt his presence immediately and you could hear a pin drop as the audience were just so captured by him, myself included. His performance truly left me speechless, he portrayed complex emotions beautifully and was fabulously camp and over the top in just the right moments. Nothing was ever too much or too little. I don't use this word often but his performance really was perfection.

This extends to the rest of the cast too, Monica Reed made me laugh so much and the way Indira Varma held herself on stage was enchanting. In a play centred around a man you might expect the women to be somewhat in the background but for me there were several portrayals of strong women in this production. I also remembered Abdul Salis from seeing him in The American Clock and it was wonderful to see him in a role that portrayed so much raw emotion, he really showed his flexibility as an actor and I hope I get to see him in another OV production in the future. But truly, every single person on stage gave as good a performance as the next, it really was the definition of a team effort.

Photos by Manual Harlan

As for my highlights, there were a few moments I loved. I won't spoil anything but there was a moment with a wheelchair that made me laugh so much as a wheelchair user myself, I think the rest of the audience were horrified (and amused) but I found it rather relatable and therefore even funnier! A big part of the show is also the theme of the actor/fan relationship, something I would love to see portrayed on stage more as it's such a big part of theatre. Obviously this play is set in a time very different to now but I think it touched on some important messages and showed how difficult the actor/fan relationship can be, from both perspectives.

And oh how I laughed! It's the first comedy play I've seen and by the time it got to the interval I was ready and eager to book to see it again as soon as possible. Someone was clearly on my side as despite it being near enough sold out, I managed to grab the wheelchair space for a performance next week. This show really is the joy that everyone needs in their life, but also balanced by complex emotions and stories. For me, this is what a play should be. It made me feel everything possible. The combination of the cast, the writing, the direction and the breathtaking set (seriously OV, 10/10 for all your sets) made this one of the best shows I have ever seen, and most certainly the best play.

If you've not already booked you've got until August 10th to catch this masterpiece, this is one show you should be sure not to miss out on. Head to The Old Vic website to buy your tickets.

The access at The Old Vic is much the same as usual, with the work to improve their accessibility still ongoing, but this is the first time I'm giving my reviews an accessibility rating as well as a rating for the show itself so I thought it would be good to have a detailed look at The Old Vic's current access, as well as it's plans for the future.

The Old Vic currently has 2 spaces available for wheelchair users in the stalls, I've sat in N6 for every production I've seen there and it has always been an incredible view. It's close to the stage and there is no restriction in my opinion. Entry to the theatre for wheelchair users is currently via a side entrance, which gives you access to the auditorium and the accessible toilet. Access to the foyer areas is not possible for wheelchair users at the moment. The accessible toilet has a concertina door, as the space itself is not particularly big. I am a powerchair user and I can just about turn around to come back out, although others may find it easier to reverse in or reverse out depending on how you transfer. Patrons with mobility difficulties can also use this entrance. There are audio described and captioned performances for every production The Old Vic puts on, as well as relaxed performances for shows like A Christmas Carol. I also didn't know this before but you can actually contact The Old Vic to ask about whether any of their shows contain triggering themes, this isn't something I've seen before and I think it's great!

I've rated the access for how it is currently but I have taken into consideration that work is currently ongoing to make the foyer areas like the box office and the cafe accessible for wheelchair users and other disabled people. There will also be an increased number of wheelchair spaces, taking them from 2 to 10! Work is also being done to double the number of women's toilets as well, including adding another accessible toilet. I truly cannot wait for the work to be completed later this year and to explore the theatre further. There are also even more plans for the future, I think The Old Vic could end up being one of the most accessible theatres in London in the end.


  1. This play sounds wonderful. We have seen some Noel Coward plays at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Canada. His writing is always brilliant.

    It's good to know that the Old Vic is taking such progressive steps to accommodate those who live with disabilities. They are a model for others!

    1. I will definitely have to look out for other Noel Coward plays to see!

      I really hope others will follow in the example they are setting.