Review: Noises Off. Theatre Royal Bath.
Michael Frayn’s farce continues to deliver the laughs since its first run in 1982 and yet over the years it has more to offer than just a knock about comedy with a lot of stairs. Director Lindsay Posner’s Noises Off is not only a send up of the genre of farce itself, an insight into backstage theatre chaos and professionally amdram thespians – but also as a critique of society with its tax dodging wealthy couple, its belittling of women by dominating men, its notes on dementia and alcoholism and above all the social pyramid of the cast and crew of the play within a play of Nothing On.
A brilliantly submissive and bullied Nikhita Lesler as the prompt and general dogsbody Poppy is shouted at by tyrannical director Lloyd Dallas while wannabe actor and bumbling stage fixer Tim Allgood is brow beaten for the smallest of short comings. The social structure reflecting society has the director at the top, then the fading TV star Dotty Otley and delightfully forgetful housekeeper in the Nothing On play (Lisa Goddard) followed by lead actor Garry Lejune (Dan Fredenburgh) and so on down to the long-suffering stagehands. Frayn is supposed to have been inspired by the comedy of actors getting flustered backstage during a play he was involved in some years before he wrote Noises Off. And that is the play’s genius as we see both on and off-stage antics. The drama is split into three acts with the rehearsals onstage, then backstage chaos of a performance and the final onstage setting as the drama featuring misplaced props, wrong costumes, forgotten lines and cues sees the production descend into spectacular chaos.
Dan Fredenburgh as the leading man both in the play and play within a play excelled in his role with his physicality gaining a rousing round of applause as he falls downstairs, while lingerie clad Lisa Ambalavanar with her OTT poses, inability to listen to the cast and the drama of her lost contact lens was exceptional. Simon Coates not only lost his trousers as forgetful actor Frederick Fellowes but also added a touch of pathos as his memory slid into confusion. His on-stage wife Belinda Blair (Lucy Robinson) was every bit the theatrical grand dame as she made the stage her own with a professional presence – overstated but understated – theatrical but also naturalistic. Some doubts about Matthew Kelly as the drunken actor Selsdon Mowbray who plays the burglar in the play within a play and who comically breaks into the country house too soon. Did he over egg his appearances as he played to the audience? Perhaps – but the audience loved it.
The inside outside set of the country house with its stairs, landing and furniture is the other character in the play thanks to designer Simon Higlett and Paul Pyant’s lighting. Its slamming doors, public address system and misplaced props added as much humour as the script since it ensured that such a complex set added a huge amount of physical theatre – credit to Ruth Cooper-Brown as movement director. The set was as important as the complex story although by the end of the drama I did wonder what it was all about. An exposed love triangle, a disaster waiting to happen or a send up of farces, thespians, over sexed directors or indeed society? All of the above. Whatever, the laughs kept coming. Hugely enjoyable – but it leaves you wondering how do the cast remember all those split-second exits and entrances? It is certainly a slick and brilliantly funny play – superbly directed at high speed by Lindsay Posner that had the audience in fits of laughter well before the final curtain – and I haven’t mentioned the sardines.
The production runs to Saturday, 23rd September, 2023
The play is a Theatre Royal Bath Production in association with Birmingham Rep.
It tours after Bath to Truro, Blackpool, Poole, Salford, Guildford and York this autumn.
For tickets and information visit https://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/events/noises-off/
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