Philip wrote this review in November 2000 but, given the success of the Broadway transfer, it seemed timely to reprint it now.
This new production of Frayn's 1982 farce at the Lyttelton Auditorium of the National Theatre is a success. It has sold out and leaves its audience reeling with laughter.
This is the classic play within a play. In the first Act, we see a farce, Nothing On, produced by a relatively standard group of actors. This includes the old hacks and the young ingenue. There are affairs aplenty between cast members and these begin to bleed on to the stage.
One image that director Jeremy Sams may have to justify in person is that of director, Lloyd Dallas played by Peter Egan. He looks the spitting image of another great National Theatre director, Sir Peter Hall. One hopes that this does not lead to legal action in the future in view of Dallas' offstage activities, never mind his directing.
The first Act really sets the scene and at times is only fairly funny. The play really moves into action and laughter takes over during the second Act, which is set backstage at a production of Nothing On. We see actors whizzing on and off stage amidst tears, fights and alcoholic excesses. This gives one a real feel of what it must be like to act in a farce put on by a touring theatre company where actors move around from week to week and probably have very little idea of which town they are playing on some occasions.
The timing is absolutely superb and a drifting from real character to the "stage character" is done beautifully with tremendous timing. This is a complement to both Jeremy Sams and his hardworking cast including a combination of comedy actors who are regularly seen in farces such as Susie Blake and, and some classical actors such as Patricia Hodge who is a regular member of this National Theatre ensemble.
The third Act shows the last night of the run of Nothing On and degenerates into farce on both sides of the stage. By the end, the audience is falling about with laughter and the cast and the scenery are falling about the stage.
Overall, this is an evening of great fun with the bonus of something of an insight into the operation of a touring theatre company.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher