Noises off

Michael Frayn
Theatre Royal Bath and Birmingham Rep
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

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Liza Goddard (Dotty), Dan Fredenburgh (Garry) and Simon Coates (Frederick) Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
Liza Goddard (Dotty) Credit: Pamela Raith Photography
The ensemble Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Most of the cast of Michael Frayn’s frenetic farce will have clocked up close to 150 performances by the time it ends its six-month UK tour in Oxford next week. With the sort of energy they bring to the show, if this were sport, someone would be looking at what they put in their tea.

The company of eight are supposedly about to put on a show, Nothing On, but as midnight passes a few hours before its opening, all that is certain is the actors of Nothing On will do Nothing Right. It definitely won’t be alright on the night.

This is a farce about a farce, a predecessor of all those later ...Goes Wrong titles. There are the usual ingredients, multiple doors, lost trousers, skimpy underwear, but the lines are fluffed, props misappropriated, cues miscued.

The central act cleverly switches the action to backstage, laughs generated by the fact that the characters cannot speak a word while their colleagues perform on stage, out of sight.

The action is manic throughout, with delicious overacting that could be seen from space. Special praise goes to Dan Fredenburgh, a demented, John Cleesey, long-legged fellow, forced to bunny-hop two steps at a time up a staircase that he is soon to descend more quickly head first, and to Lucy Robinson, ad-libbing outrageously when all about her... You know the rest.

The energy and pace of delivery is the source of most of the humour, as the words and the subplots between the warring characters are hard to follow. For written gags, however, there is compensation in possibly the funniest printed programme I’ve ever read, which includes spoof biographies of the fictional actors and a superb pseudo-scholarly analysis of farce that equates lost trousers to the Fall of Man, and likens the striped underpants usually revealed to those of the tiger, ‘the feral beast’ that lurks below.

It's the sort of humour that doesn’t get elbow room in the riotous show it promotes.

Noises Off concludes its UK tour at Oxford Playhouse next week from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 February.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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