Mistaken identities, romantic trysts, middle-aged men dropping their trousers – Noises Off at The Grand Theatre has all this in droves. If all this sounds rather old hat, be assured there is a lot more to Noises Off than just a bedroom farce.
Noises Off is a play-within-a-play – a spoof on the sort of production that was often served up in the 60s and 70s. This is the original comedy that inspired The Play That Goes Wrong series and this is a play that most certainly does that. And, boy, will it make you laugh while it does!
In Act One, we see the embarrassingly under-rehearsed play, Nothing On, during the technical rehearsal (or is it the dress rehearsal? Neither cast nor crew seem sure). With less than 24 hours before curtain-up, a has-been TV star, Dotty (Liza Goddard), is still forgetting her props (sardines to be precise – don’t ask!), hesitant Freddy (Simon Coates) is worrying about his motivation, and half-deaf, half-sozzled Selsdon (Matthew Kelly) cannot be found anywhere. Directing these misfits is the increasing fractious Lloyd Dallas (Simon Shepherd) while at the same time trying to keep his romantic fling with Assistant Stage Manager, Poppy (Nikhita Lesler) and the aspiring young actress, Brooke (Lisa Ambalavanar) under wraps. Later, it turns out, this is not the only romantic triangle playing out behind the scenes.
Fredenburgh gave us some of the finest physical comedy I have ever seen, culminating with him sliding down a flight of stairs headfirst and knocking himself out.
Michael Frayn wrote the play in 1982 after apparently witnessing the behind-the-scenes drama of an actual 1970’s farce where the backstage antics were funnier than what was happening out front. Now, over 40-50 years after these sex farces were all the rage, the first act has perhaps lost some of the comedic value it had when the play was first performed. Having said that, it cleverly introduces us to all the characters and their various relationships and sets it up brilliantly for the absolutely hilarious second act. It’s here we see the backstage machinations of the cast as they deal with their amorous entanglements and their pent-up frustrations from weeks on the road.
The beleaguered Stage Manager (Daniel Rainford) does his best to get the curtain up on the latest performance of Nothing On and, when he finally does, all is quiet backstage. This is when the comedy really begins. With its tightly choreographed moves, what follows is a masterclass of silent comedy, dumbshow and slapstick which had the audience in non-stop fits of laughter.
Dan Fredenburgh as Garry Lejeune bunny hopping around the stage because his shoelaces had been tied together by the mischievous Dotty was comedy genius. The timing from all the cast was impeccable as flowers, sardines, an axe and a cactus (just some of the props) were faultlessly manoeuvered from hand to hand with much humorous effect.
In the final act, we are back watching the play from the front, in its final week of its tour. Most of the actors have given up by now and Lucy Robinson as Belinda Blair shines as she tries to ad-lib her way to the end of the scene despite everything around her turning to chaos. The ending itself fizzled out somewhat, but not before Fredenburgh gave us some of the finest physical comedy I have ever seen, culminating with him sliding down a flight of stairs headfirst and knocking himself out. Comedy gold!
It may be 40 years old, but Frayn’s script still delivers. For an evening of great fun and belly laughs, you couldn’t do better than get yourself down to The Grand to see a top-rate cast deliver this classic comedy. As farces go – it doesn’t get much better than this.
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