MICHAEL Frayn’s classic fly-on-the-wall farce Noises Off is the story of a third rate theatre company performing a fourth rate farce, Nothing On, on a regional UK tour.
For anyone who remembers such tours, the humour is heightened, but this is a play for all audiences, a riot of dumb show and luvviedom, pratfalls and domestic disputes, framed by a comedy of ridiculous complexity and atrocious writing, at the centre of which are endless plates of unexplained sardines.
At the Nuffield, director Blanche McIntyre fulfills a long-held ambition to produce Frayn’s only foray into broad comedy, and adds her own brilliant touches to the show. As always in Noises Off, the designer (Robert Innes Hopkins) deserves a nod, creating a set of strategically placed doors and stairs and windows that must be seen from the front and the back.
We join the company, Otstar Productions, just hours from opening night, when lack of time forces the combining of the technical and dress rehearsals, and the actors are coming to terms with each other and their lines.
Next is the hilarious backstage scene, performed in silence with the only words coming from the “stage” the other side of the set. It’s such a tour de force that the last act is almost always a bit of an anticlimax. McIntyre’s production adds enough clever touches to bring it right up to the previous comedy levels.
This is ensemble playing of the highest order, choreographed and performed with perfect timing and high energy, and if a few of the lines get missed in the mayhem, it matters not. Carla Mendonca is the creaky Mrs Clackett played by fading actress and tour backer Dotty Otley, Robin Bowerman a delightfully eccentric Selsdon with selective deafness of which a terrier would be proud, Sophia Nomvete an unusually powerful Brook, Patrick Osborne the stammering and hugely agile Garry, and Orlando Wells the exasperated director (of Nothing On) Lloyd, heading the wonderful cast.
If you want a really good laugh, this is the show to go to.