Tag Archives: Michael Frayn

“Noises Off” at the Richmond Theatre

Is Michael Frayn’s comedy classic fool proof? I’ve always laughed at the antics of the theatre troupe that we see in rehearsal, behind the scenes and then performing. Frayn’s clever three act structure is a joy in its own right. This play is a guaranteed to make you laugh.

Frayn adds a love of theatre to the genre of farce and some strong characters who all add humour. There’s gentle fun poked at these thesps – their pretentions, insecurities and gossiping – that creates charm. Getting to see what goes on, and what goes wrong, builds brilliantly to a fiasco of a performance that delights.

The script is so strong, and every role sure to get giggles, that blogging about a particular production becomes a matter of pointing out highlights. Celebrating the play’s 40th anniversary, this revival boasts Felicity Kendal living up to her character’s name – Dotty. And there’s a strong performance from Matthew Kelly as the ageing alcoholic Selsdon who has a great time with his character’s deafness.

Who tickles you most is a tough call. But I was particularly impressed with Joseph Millson who plays leading man Garry. One of the more physical roles, which always gets applause, Millson is also great with his character’s tongue-tied moments. The irony that he criticises playwrights but can barely string a sentence together is delicious. By the end he is practically barking single words to indicate props missing or in the wrong location.

Alexander Hanson is another highlight in the role of the show-within-a-show’s director, Lloyd. Joining the action from the auditorium, his weariness as he climbs the stairs to the stage gets laughs before he even opens his mouth. Hanson deals with Frayn’s fast paced dialogue expertly, delivering insults superbly.

As for the real director here – Lindsay Posner – experience with the show pays off. Having directed a revival back in 2011, there is a confidence that again makes it tempting to see the show as easy work. Of course, it isn’t! Any good farce is exacting – they require precision – and Noises Off is a very good farce. All those sardines and doors that confuse the characters are just as tricky to deal with for real. And making each mistake look genuine is even harder. That Posner and his cast make it all seem so easy is something to make a lot of noise about.

Until 15 October

Photo by Nobby Clark

“Noises Off” at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

The delicious irony that lies behind Michael Frayn’s classic is as effective as ever in this new revival. Taking us behind the scenes of a farce, from disastrous rehearsals to the exhaustion of a show that’s been on the road too long, actually demands great technical skill. Every deliberately forgotten line or missed cue, each slapstick move and faulty prop needs executing to perfection. Director Jeremy Herrin and his cast have the know-how and, with that in place, the audience can sit back and laugh.

Without diminishing Herrin’s achievement – as well as the coming-and-going of the farce being performed there are the backstage shenanigans going on – Frayn’s play is so perfectly written you can’t fail to get caught up in it. It’s clear from the midnight rehearsal we start at that all is not well. In Act Two, which takes us literally behind the scenes, tensions within the company come to the fore. And by the end of the show those naughty noises we can hear, from the exasperated performers, are nearly drowned out by audience laughter.

If a trick is missed, maybe Lloyd Owen could make it clearer that his character, the exasperated director of the show, is the company lothario. Likewise, the love interests – on stage the actress Brooke (Amy Morgan) and behind the scenes the stage manager Poppy (Lois Chimimba) – could benefit from more laughs from the play’s love triangle. But all the cast are incredibly hard working. For once in the theatre it pays to show the crowd that you are breaking into a sweat, and results are fantastic.

Leading the laughs are Deborah Gillett and Meera Syal as old hands Belinda and Dotty, who are full of endearing gossip. Syal flips from formidable to vulnerable as her elderly character, who has put money into the tour, has to work increasingly hard for a return. There are fantastic turns, too, from Daniel Rigby and Jonathan Cullen as two nice but dim actors who quibble about bags and boxes or questions of motivation. Every ‘love’ or ‘darling’ gets a giggle and, as affection turns into aggression, the play gets funnier and funnier.

Showing the show deteriorate as tensions mount is beautifully done – remember we’re seeing pretty much the same thing three times here! The perspective alters, of course, quite literally when we are behind the scenes, but it’s the creation of a mood by all the cast that does the work. Each scene may be manic but the characters have different paces as exhaustion and desperation sets in. Command of the piece’s tempo means that Herrin gets the final applause. Listening to his onstage counterpart, the advice is to deliver the show with plenty of “bang”. We have that, but the action never escalates into something incomprehensible. As a final accolade for Herrin and his crew, the sense of tenderness towards the theatre in Frayn’s play is clear. The commitment that the show must go on, even if that’s just for the “small crowd at the front of the back stalls”, is unquestioned. Admiration abounds for all involved with a fantastic play that’s brilliantly delivered.

Until 3 August 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Helen Maybanks