fri 31/10/2014

Noises Off, Old Vic | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

Noises Off, Old Vic

Hilarious revival of Michael Frayn's modern classic

Farce-within-a-farce: Janie Dee, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie and Jonathan Coy in 'Noises Off'Tristram Kenton

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.

Much fun can be had from watching the cast parade every neurotic, egotistical and backstabbing theatrical cliché

rating

5

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