Noises Off, Theatre Royal, Bath

‘You lucky people, if it’s laughter you’re after, Trinder’s the name’ it was with those words that Tommy Trinder, one of the most consistent best all round comedians of the twentieth century usually started his act, and with slight alterations they would make a good prologue to the Theatre Royal Bath and Birmingham Rep’s production of Noises Off.

Any audience that attends a performance of this classic farce will be indeed lucky, and unless they are real sour faced curmudgeons guaranteed to have their full share of laughter. It’s all well and good having a classic farce to work with, but as has so often been the case when a group of individuals, rather than a close knit team, have been let loose on a well-loved  Aldwych or Whitehall farce, the result can be disastrously unfunny.

Under the guidance of Director Lindsay Posner this is an excellent blend of experience, and youthful exuberance. Liza Goddard and Matthew Kelly creating two beautifully judged portraits. As Dotty Otley, just beginning to have difficulty remembering the words and moves as the housekeeper in the play-within-a-play, off stage, as sharp tongued as ever, Liza presents one comic goodie after another. And she is matched all the way by Matthew’s veteran actor and well known inebriate Selsdon Mowbray, deliberately mis-timing lines and entries to great effect. They skilfully and seamlessly combine with Lisa Ambalavanar’s delightful “dizzy blonde”  brunette, Brooke Ashton, Nikhita Lesler’s personally and professionally frustrated stage manager, Poppy Norton-Taylor, and Daniel Rainford’s bullied and overworked jack of all backstage work, Tim Allgood.

We also are introduced to Dan Fredenburgh’s Garry Lejune, whose facade as a charming leading man gradually dissolves because, as he sees it, others’ inefficiency, reaching a climax as he sails headlong down the stairs in a dead faint, two beautifully admirable controlled portraits from Lucy Robinson, her Belinda Blair determinedly trying to prevent the play and personal relationships exploding into chaos, and Simon Coates’ understated ineffectual Frederick Fellowes, plus Simon Shepherd, firing on all cylinders as the womanising Director of the play within a play, Lloyd Dallas, whose attempts to sort out the theatrical problems are continually undone by his personal relationships.

We meet these characters as Michael Frayn takes us on a tour of a distinctly unsure theatrical company about to embark on a tour with a farcical comedy. We see them first going through a dress rehearsal fraught with difficulties and mistakes, then backstage during one of their tour dates, where the production is still far from perfect, made worst by deteriorating personal relationships, and finally watching this same disastrous presentation as an audience.

Those who believe in the old saying always leave them wanting more would be happier if the play ended after the second act. Others believing that you cannot have too much of a good thing are perfectly happy with the three acts, and as the final act generates as much laughter as those that have gone before, who is is to argue with that point of view.

One thing is certain in the hands of this well-chosen tight knit team of farceurs, this play  is a delight combining wonderful mimed comedy with expertly timed verbal humour.


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