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
As an admirer of Gore Vidal’s novels, the chance to see one of his plays in the UK is rare treat. This work from 1960, following two candidates for presidential nomination, has perennial appeal (the latest Broadway revival was in 2012). As one of the 20th century’s great men of letters, maybe it’s no big surprise that Vidal could write for theatre, but he makes it seem easy, with impeccable construction, well-rounded characters, sparkling dialogue and an awesome intellect when it comes to exploring and developing ideas.
This is a touring show that director Simon Evans has refined to perfection. The production is as slick as a politician might wish for – those involved with the recent Tory conference would be green with envy (there’s no coughing here). Jeff Fahey skilfully conveys a period feel as the outsider Cantwell, a dangerous figure with “naked ambition” and a sinister southern drawl. Martin Shaw is the lead, Russell, but takes the play’s title too literally. Russell is clearly the hero, but as Vidal’s alter ego he should come across less as ‘man of the people’. Shaw isn’t waspish or imperious enough and, as a result, a good deal of humour is lost.
Both leading men are commanding and the scene of their confrontation is electric. Yet the play excites as much with its trio of strong female roles. And getting three women in a play about politics ain’t bad going. Gemma Jones steals a scene as a matriarchal figure, while Glynis Barber and Honeysuckle Weeks are great as the candidates’ wives. Seeing the power behind the potential thrones embodies the insider feel that makes for delicious moments. But Vidal has also creates believably flawed relationships that both actresses can work with. Barber is particularly strong as Russell’s estranged partner. Putting on a public show, she dismisses the conference around her, saying, “I like circuses” – but hopes of renewing the marriage show her complex motivations.
When it comes to the latest addition to the conference scene, it’s Vidal himself who is the prankster here. Given his heritage and own foray into real-life campaigning it’s an exclusive view that makes the satire truly sparkle. And also… a little sad. The play can’t hide its disappointment at politics, a resignation that gives it heart. The depressing irony is that this cynical vision often feels old-fashioned. The talk of slurs taking a campaign “beyond truth” reveal Vidal as visionary, but also somehow quaint. The unsuitability of the candidates – due to mental instability or downright stupidity – shocked in the 1960s. Oh, for those good old days.
Touring until the 28 October 2018