Present Laughter

Words by Ian McKellen

Robert Inns Hopkins’ silver and black setting glittered and I did my best to fit in to its art deco glamour. Garry Essendine is a starring role, a matinee idol obsessed with his receding hairline, and once I had conquered the lines I relaxed enough to throw them up like a juggler, catching most of them with the necessary panache. I was 20 years older than Coward when he played his own hero but it didn’t seem to matter to anyone apart from me. I was surrounded by very accomplished comedic performers – Susie Baxter as the secretary, Claudie Blakley as the one-night-stand, Clare Higgins as the ex-wife, Rhashan Stone as the young playwright and Will Keen (who I had first met during my year as Professor of Contemporary Theatre in Oxford in 1990) dragged up as Lady Saltburn.

1998 was the centenary of Coward’s birth and ours was the first of many celebratory productions. A transfer to the West End was mooted but impractical because of my plans to do more film work. — Ian McKellen, June 2001

Next Play: The Tempest

Stage Index