Thursday, October 04, 2007
Michael Billington in the Guardian isnt very happy with the production, but is full of praise for Alex:
Ever since Coward played him in 1942, Garry has been seen as the ultimate matinee idol, whose impenetrable charm compensates for his narcissistic vanity. Alex Jennings, however, offers a superbly executed re-interpretation. Wrapping himself in a new dressing gown as if he were a Roman emperor, Jennings does not stint on Garry's self-esteem; at the same time he suggests he is the only truth-teller in a world of lies. He rounds on a talentless playwright, Roland Maule, with the moral fervour of Molière's Alceste. And, harassed by amorous intrigue on the eve of a tour to Africa, Jennings brutally exposes the sexual hypocrisy of his inner circle. It is a richly funny performance that confirms Coward's innate puritanism.
Full review: The Guardian
Nicolas de Jongh in the Evening Standard is less enthusiastic:
"Howard Davies, not a director whose productions have ever revealed himself to be on close terms with a sense of humour, and Alex Jennings, who clearly adores flouncing around in one dressing gown and several piques, take too old-fashioned, heterosexist and superficial a line.
The interpolation of news bulletins about war manoeuvres makes Present Laughter seem preposterously selfabsorbed. There are interesting psychological and sexual nuances that need exploring rather than concealing as Davies and Jennings contrive: Garry proves randomly bisexual rather than faithfully heterosexual, manifests dread of middle-age and loneliness.
He does break out in genuine erotic desire and anger when his business partner's adulterous wife, Lisa Dillon's vamping Joanna, attempts to seduce him and threatens his cocooned existence. He turns rattled when his male admirer, Pip Carter's unsuitably weird rather than gay Roland Maule, arrives to harass him.
Jennings, a bit mature to play Coward's forty-ish heartthrob, registers no such complexities. His comically pointed performance, like Tim Hatley's set, is sedately grand and imposing. The thin slither of the creaky plot,which shows up like an overdue limousine, does not reach climactic pandemonium."
Full review: Evening Standard
In The Times Benedict Nightingale has some doubts:
"Garry is Coward’s half-mocking, half-admiring portrait of his own sophisticated self, and we’re not in doubt of his narcissism from the moment Alex Jennings, who plays him at the National, leaps on to his piano to preen himself in the giant mirrors that line the odd, tapering, turquoise drawing room that Tim Hatley has designed for him. Nothing finally matters to him but his ego, his career and his impending African tour.
Jennings’s Garry is interestingly different from those we’ve seen in recent years: Ian McKellen, who emphasised the actor’s fear of ageing and self-regarding infantilism; Simon Callow, who suggested a surprising seriousness beneath the thespian extravagance and fruity vox; Peter Bowles, who caught a steely aloofness and an inner melancholy as well as a suave exterior; Tom Conti, who was, well, Tom Conti. For Jennings, Garry is a defensive, harassed man who comes alive when he decides it’s necessary to perform the role of the stricken lover saying farewell, or the much-abused victim of others’ cruelty, or anything that’s not the near-vacuum of himself.
Since the plot has Feydeauesque twists, with Garry using his spare room as a hiding-place for his lays – one a gurgling deb, the others respectively the wife and the lover of his two closest friends – Jennings gets plenty of opportunity to be the man who never knows when, or if, he’s acting.
Some of this is decidedly funny, but doubts intrude. For all the self-criticism, isn’t the portrait fundamentally self-serving, especially when this crypto-Coward is caricaturing and mocking Pip Carter’s Maule, a would-be dramatist of the kind the real Coward was to assail in the kitchen-sink era?"
Full review: Times
David Benedict in Variety is full of praise for Alex:
"In a role he was born to play, Jennings makes ease look, well, easy. Despite peacocking about in a series of dressing gowns, Jennings never confuses charm and smarm; he sweeps about the stage like a cross between Rex Harrison and a well-bred wolf.
Exaggeration isn't Garry's mode of expression, it's his way of life. Leaping on top of the grand to observe himself in one of the full length mirrors lining Tim Hatley's boldly turquoise, sharply angled set, he cries "Oh God, I look 98." In fact, he's bordering on 42. Jennings, however, reveals both Garry's boyish bravado and, in the nighttime seduction scene, the mature intelligence usually hidden beneath his entertaining bombast.
Jennings' timing is so flawless he even finds space to stretch punctuation to delicious comic effect. Attempting to extricate himself from last night's love-struck ingenue, he trots out the line, "Don't love me too much, Daphne." But he halts momentarily on the comma to search for her name, indicating just how common an occurrence this is."
Full review: Variety