MICHAEL Frayn’s uber-farce, Noises Off, had its premiere 40 years ago, since when it has never lapsed in its popularity – on stage somewhere or other in the English-speaking world.
Now the anniversary tour, starring Felicity Kendall and Matthew Kelly opens at Bath Theatre Royal. Directed by Lindsay Posner with a set by Simon Higlett, the production is a sparkling parade of joyful moments, brilliantly sending up all the hackneyed tropes of touring provincial rep and trouser-dropping set-piece amorous escapades.
At its heart is a love for both the traditions and the genre, inspired by Frayn’s afternoon in a very English seaside theatre. No possibility for disaster is left unexplored, and the mixture is enriched by the pretensions of director Lloyd as a SERIOUS DRAMATURG.
Noises Off also gives programme designers a rare chance to show off their inventiveness, since it encapsulates the potential of the play-within-a-play format, taking the director into the real audience. And then it does it backwards, breaking not the fourth wall, but the first one! If you’ve never seen it before, its brilliant conceit will amaze you. If this is your fourth, fifth, etc production, you’ll marvel at its inexhaustible possibilities for fun and the perfect timing it demands from its cast.
Usually, it is Dottie Otley who is the star of the proceedings. She’s the aging actress who has backed the tour in the hopes enough bums will be placed on the plush to bring her a nest egg for her retirement. But Posner’s production is a masterpiece in Levelling Up (though to me a Ministry of Levelling Up sounds like a Mr Man title!)
Although Felicity Kendall plays Dotty with consummate skill and delight, she doesn’t seek to steal the scene. Nor does Matthew Kelly as the dipsomaniac Selsdon Mowbray, one of the old school of actOrs. This really IS an ensemble piece, with every one of the nine-strong cast allowed free rein in the spotlight, and spreading the hilarity around the auditorium.
Joseph Millson is a powerhouse of a Garry, Dotty’s tongue-tied younger lover. Tracy-Ann Oberman’s thrown-in grand gestures at every awkward moment, and Jonathan Coy’s queasy misery balance with Pepter Lunkuse and Hubert Burton as the increasingly fraught stage team. Alexander Hanson captures the supercilious patronising of the director, and Sasha Frost’s would-be mistress with an unexpected job, not to mention father, is a joy.
Perhaps the stars of the show are the sardines,.
If you want to laugh till it hurts, go to see this tour.