Theatre Review - Noises off

Posted by Alexander Hay

An irresistible 30-year-old farce returns fresher and funnier than ever in the shape of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, revived in a splendid new production, directed by Lindsay Posner, at the Old Vic Theatre

Noises OffOver the course of two-and-a-half hours we drop in three times on a shambolic touring theatre company. In the first act we are at the dress rehearsal for its new show 'Nothing On', and see the sarcastically vicious director bullying his cast in trying to give shape to a slowly disintegrating production.

Next we go backstage during a matinee performance taking place four weeks later – seeing the show as if in a photographic negative. We are privy to the mayhem behind the scenes as the actors try to keep the show on the road, while dealing with the vicious romantic rivalries – such as the director juggling two lovers, the old soap star Dotty having a fling with her younger, dimmer leading man and a deaf, veteran actor who can neither resist a dram of whisky nor remember his lines.

In the final act we see the show at the end of the run, when the now maimed company has been reduced to collective shell, with almost everything collapsing around them.

This is a farce about farce which sends up the genre, while remaining faithful to its rules and is no doubt based on one of those basic British comedies Frayn saw as a young reporter.

But the script displays a perfect in how it shows all the many and varied ways a production can go wrong, like the many, many things you can do with a plate of sardines, for example. Meanwhile, his spin on all the elements of classic farce, be they slamming doors, dropped trousers, dodgy dialogue or malfunctioning telephones, still manage to raise gales of laughter. Indeed, the build-up of comic mishaps is as brilliantly orchestrated as in a classic Buster Keaton silent film.

Furthermore, as a portrait of a slowly disintegrating stage production, in which panic, disorder and chaos become the order of the day, the play says a lot about the precarious nature of theatre, whose motto is the show must go on (whatever the cost).

Director Lindsay Posner draws impeccable performances from his first–rate cast, notably Amy Nuttall as a dim-witted pin-up who keeps losing both clothes and her contact lenses, Celia Imrie as the old soap star Dotty, Jamie Glover as her errant lover, Jonathan Coy as an insecure actor, Janie Dee as a honey-tongued scandalmonger and Robert Glenister as the amorous, bullying director.

This in, in short, an ideal way to escape the gloom of our economically troubled times.

Runs until February 25, 2012

Box office: 0844 871 7628

Press: Jo Allan PR 0207 243 6176

By Laurence Green


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Alexander Hay

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