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Live / stage review

"A well-presented revival": Noises Off at the Lyceum

Although the Carry On style of bawdy humour it mocks is dated, this rendition of Michael Frayn's cleverly constructed farce still feels very fresh – and there are some genuine belly laughs. 

311 X4 A5043 Noises Off Pamela Raith Photography
Pamela Raith Photography

There is significant truth in the adage 'the show must go on,' and nowhere is this more evident than in Noises Off.

Over the course of three acts, the audience is given the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of the production of the fictional play-within-a-play, ‘Nothing On’, a farce with an abundance of quick entrances and exits, trouser dropping and an unhealthy obsession with sardines.

We firstly join the cast just before midnight on the evening before the opening night as they desperately try to cram in a rehearsal. Missed cues, forgotten scripts and queries about character motivations all drive director Lloyd Dallas (played by Simon Shepherd) to despair as he tries desperately to hold both the cast and the production together.

The second act joins Nothing On a month into the tour, where failed romances, personal quibbles and frayed relationships culminate in backstage mayhem during a Wednesday matinee performance, with the cast silently arguing behind the scenes as they dash on and off stage.

Act three picks up on the now weary cast as they approach the end of their ten-week run, where exhaustion from the on-stage shenanigans and the backstage backbiting are taking their toll, leading the cast to make up the show pretty much as they go along.

117 77 A5884 Noises Off Pamela Raith Photography
Pamela Raith Photography

Written in the early 80's by Michael Frayn, Noises off is cleverly constructed play which brings with it all the tropes of a traditional farce, both in the play itself and also in the fictional play-within-a-play, along with a beautiful and ingenious dovetailing of the on and off-stage antics. The script can be wordy with a fast-paced delivery, but it's during the second act that the show really excels by doing away with the script and showing the characters as they argue silently backstage during a performance in what can only be described as impeccably-timed and perfectly-choreographed slapstick.

The characters of the show are easily recognisable – the lothario director, the hapless stagehand, the high-maintenance old timer and the heavy-drinking liability, all of whom have their own role to play in the ensuing madness. Matthew Kelly swaggers as the boozehound Selsdon Mowbry, Liza Goddard is endearing as Dotty Otley the old timer and Dan Fredenburgh does an excellent job of hopping up and down stairs with his shoelaces tied together as the spurned Garry Lejune.

The set design lends itself to the slapstick humour and rapid entrances, exits and door slamming and the show is well directed, keeping the laughs coming thick and fast. It's a sharply observed, tongue-in-cheek look at a theatrical staple, and although the Carry On style of bawdy humour it mocks is dated, the show itself still feels very fresh. There are some genuine belly laughs to be had here from a combination of witty one liners, physical comedy and genuine absurdity. A couple of the jokes wear thin towards the end, but overall there is much to enjoy in this well-presented revival.

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