Review – Noises Off

Jun 5 2013 | By More

★★★★☆  All pace and energy

King’s Theatre Tue 4 – Sat 8 June 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Laughter comes easily at the King’s this week, where the Old Vic’s touring production of Michael Frayn’s backstage farce, Noises Off, is rattling away with great pace and energy.

The zip doesn’t come as easily as in other productions – this is a staging that takes its time to lay a solid foundation on which to build its farce over the full course of the play’s three clever acts.

The cast of the Old Vic’s touring production of Noises Off. Photo credit: Johan Persson

Frayn conceived of the format for Noises Off while watching the backstage goings-on of his farce The Two Of Us. It was “much funnier from the back than the front” he has said. So, too, is Nothing On, the play-within-a-play being performed here.

The first act sees Nothing On in its final rehearsal, with Neil Pearson as director Lloyd pacing up and down the aisles as he tries to knock some shape into the outmoded monster. Maureen Beattie is in top form as Dotty Otley, a failing soap star and the play’s principal backer who is playing the pivotal role of housekeeper Mrs Clackett.

Director Lindsay Posner focusses on the niceties of the rehearsal – letting the cast of fading thespians who people Nothing On develop as characters. David Bark-Jones is dim and heartfelt as young lead, Garry, with Thomasin Rand spot on as sexy young model-turned actress Brooke.

Chris Larkin has a shade more depth to play with, as last-gasp Frederick Fellowes who is ready to fall apart at any second and blunders about treading on everyone’s delicate feelings. There is something solid about the gung-ho heartiness from Sasha Waddell, as trooper Belinda Blair – who knows all the gossip on the company and who actively contrives to drop it in at the most inappropriate moment.

Geoffrey Freshwater gives the most obvious performance as old soak Selsdon Mowbray – deaf when he wants to be and too fond of the bottle. Simon Bubb and Danielle Flett give great service, but are slightly underused by Posner, as stage manger Tim and assistant Poppy.

Solid stuff, but not yet flying. That happens for Act II when the set is turned round, revealing the actors’ off-stage antics a couple of weeks into the run, when things are starting to unravel.

Farce, the slapstick and the payoff

Here is the farce, the slapstick and the payoff for all those methodically laid-down sequences in the opening act.

It’s the same scene that was being laboriously rehearsed then, with the added cleverness of doors opening and closing at exactly the right moment – and ubiquitous plates of sardines delivered on cue.

But the real comedy lies in the development of the relationships between the cast, with jealousies and rivalries revealed as they are played out in the silence of backstage. It’s here that the skill of the company is most evident; keeping two characters going simultaneously with all the ins and outs is marvellous to watch.

The final act of Frayn’s play is where the cream is stacked onto the glorious cake. It’s back out front, and Nothing On is seen from an audience’s perspective at the end of its provincial run. The company have now fallen completely apart – which doesn’t just insinuate itself onto the stage, but is writ bold and loud as lines are lost, misplaced, replaced and recycled all over the place.

Noises Off is one of the great farces of British theatre. Played at its best, it is a deconstruction of the genre which does for the bedroom farce what Once Upon A Time in the West did for the Western. This production begins to get there, and has plenty of polish, but lacks just an extra level of sophistication – and a dod of physicality – to keep it from perfection.

But it is certainly an evening which, when it comes to laughs and comic timing, has its cake and eats it.

Running time 2 hrs 20 mins.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Edinurgh.
Tue 4 – Sat 8 June 2013, 7.30pm (mat 2.30pm: Wed, Sat).
Full details on the King’s Theatre website:

The official Noises Off website is here:

The script of the play and a DVD of the 1980 film staring Michael Caine are available to buy on Amazon. Click on the images for details:

Noises Off on Tour:

Tue 4 – Sat 8 June Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Tue 11 – Sat 15 June Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
Mon 17 – Sat 22 June Salford
The Lowry
0843 208 6000 Book online
Mon 24 June – Sat 29 June Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
Mon 1 – Sat 6 July Belfast
Grand Opera House
028 9024 1919 Book online
Mon 8 – Sat 13 July Dublin
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
Tue 16 – Sat 20 July Wycombe
Swan Theatre
01494 512 000 Book online
Tue 23 – Sat 27 July Leeds
The Grand Theatre & Opera House
0844 848 2700 Book online


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