Noises Off, Old Vic | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Noises Off, Old Vic
Hilarious revival of Michael Frayn's modern classic
The play-within-a-play device has honourable antecedents - playwrights from Thomas Kyd and Anton Chekhov through to Bertolt Brecht and Tennessee Williams have flirted with it, while Shakespeare loved it so much that he used it in several of his plays, most famously in Hamlet. Michael Frayn had the idea for Noises Off, which he wrote in 1982, when he was standing in the wings at a performance of Chinamen (a one-act farce performed as part of The Two of Us), which he had written for the late Lynn Redgrave, and thought that the backstage goings-on were even funnier than the onstage action.
In Noises Off, a cast of actors are rehearsing "Nothing On", a dreadful sex farce, in a faded rep theatre in Weston-super-Mare (the Somerset seaside town that is coincidentally the setting for a recent TV sitcom). It's the type of play in which young girls run about in their undies, old men drop their trousers, a fake sheikh turns up, the set's several doors are opened and shut continually, and misunderstandings ensue. Philip and Flavia, the owners of a converted “16th-century posset mill”, are in tax exile in Spain but have returned secretly so that the taxman won't find out, a fact unknown to estate agent Roger, who is using the supposedly empty house for afternoon nookie with tax inspector Vicki.
There are times when so much great acting is going on it's difficult to know where to focus one's attention
Each of Noises Off's three acts is a performance of the first act of "Nothing On", and it opens as director Lloyd, who really would rather already be at his next job directing “proper” theatre in a production of Richard III, is running his cast through a technical rehearsal. It's midnight, they open later that day, and Dotty Otley (who plays the char Mrs Clackett) hasn't quite learned her part. When she asks if she's getting her words right, Lloyd replies: “Some of them have a familiar ring...”
But Dotty (Celia Imrie) is not the only problem Lloyd (Robert Glenister) has to contend with. Garry (who plays would-be lothario Roger) is incapable of verbalising a coherent thought while offering “helpful” notes to the director, while Vicki/Brooke (Amy Nuttall) is a blissfully gormless actress who is blind without her contact lenses and doesn't listen to anything said to her, least of all by Lloyd.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Gillian Anderson seems born to play Blanche DuBois, in this inventive and intense rendering of the Williams classic
Production obstacles stop Gershwin's great score and a valiant cast from shining
Tony Kushner’s play chronicling Nazi ascent in Germany lacks punch
Slice of American esoterica appears stilted in UK debut
New play about paedophiles and the internet is visually dazzling, but just a bit too nice
Let the right Mormons in: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips
A joyous, ebullient adaptation whose real romance is with theatre itself
New play about the Crusades fails to communicate the lessons of history
An updating of Euripides which retains its mythical power
Brief encounters with the legendary New York diva
Or the importance of doing Wilde gracefully, in sensitively handled play-within-a-play
Lynn Nottage's Off Broadway hit is a London heartbreaker