Making all the right Noises
Noises Off Noises Off is a play about the theatre, a farce about farce. Photographer: Johan Persson
Noises Off is a play about the theatre, a farce about farce. It follows a company of actors as they mount an ill-fated production of Nothing On, a comedy about, among other things, doors and sardines.
The first act is set during the technical rehearsal on the eve of opening night as the cast try to remember their lines and the director (Neil Pearson) tries not to lose his head. There is misdirection, mistaken identities, sexual innuendo, unlikely love triangles, a revolt against the props: and that’s only what’s happening off-stage.
As if sensing how exhausting the relentless dramatic disasters might become for an audience, writer Michael Frayn redirects the action in the second act, bringing us backstage, midway through the company’s tour, where another crisis of personal politics and professional misconduct is turning the comedy into a nightmare.
But the show must go on, and as the curtain rises we are treated to a dumb show of warring couples and intervention as Frayn displays a talent for slapstick that equals the verbal wit of the opening act.
Finally, act three returns the audience to the right side of the curtain, to witness the cast perform the play for the very last time, or, rather, try to. We never get any closer to the end of Nothing On – indeed, what we actually see is the same play three times – but Noises Off does reach its own hysterical catharsis.
This is a slick touring production from London’s Old Vic, nimbly performed by an excellent ensemble under the direction of Lindsay Posner, who doesn’t seem to have the God complex that Frayn’s fictional director suffers from.
Maureen Beatty stands out as the dotty Dotty, growing more manic as her personal life gets messier. Chris Larkin’s Freddie is also particularly excellent, as he stumbles blindly from one scene to the next, his head thrown back to stop a nosebleed.
Despite the pandemonium, the characters almost manage to maintain civility, and right until the end address each other in a chorus of ‘love’, ‘precious’, ‘pet’ and ‘darling’. However, *Noises Off *is not just one for the luvvies. It’s an understandably popular hit.
Until July 13th