The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Summer 2019
There are few things as
perfect in their way as a well-constructed and well-staged farce.
Michael Frayn's 1982
contribution to the genre (which premiered then
at this same Lyric Hammersmith Theatre) has earned the stature of a
classic, and even in a hit-and-miss production like this revival,
guarantees an evening of almost uninterrupted laughs.
Noises Off is
what joyless academics call metatheatre – that is, a play about
making a play.
Act One shows the
frantic last-minute rehearsals for a
typical second-rate sex farce, the sort in which several people with
one thing on their minds converge accidentally on the same spot, here
a supposedly vacant country house. (Until the 1990s every West End
season could be sure of having at least one of the type.)
Act Two is
set backstage midway through a long tour, when romances and rivalries
among the players have begun to complicate things. And Act Three puts
us back onstage for the very last performance of the tour, when
things are more likely to go wrong than right and nobody really cares
You should be able to
see the comic possibilities, all of which Frayn explots beautifully.
farce requires three things: lots of doors, tight choreography, and
The doors are for some
people to come in through just as some
are going out others, so they almost meet. The choreography is to
make such near-misses and things like passed-along props almost
balletic in their precision, and the speed is to keep the audience
from ever having a chance, between laughs, to think about how silly
it all is.
Jeremy Herrin's new
production, as I suggested, gets a
lot, but not all, of it right.
There are, at my count,
eight doors and a set of windows,
but they don't always open and close with the comic simultaneity you
would wish for.
Some in the cast catch
the Carry On character types
delightfully. After a bit of a slow start, Meera Syal slides right
into the role of the scatter-brained actress appropriately named
Dotty, Jonathan Cullen is funny as a dim-witted actor forever in
search of Method motivation, and Lloyd Owen hits and sustains the
director's near-panic desperation hilariously.
But Daniel Rigby
hasn't quite found the right level of near-cartoon playing as the
totally inarticulate leading man, nor (in these enlightened times)
does Amy Morgan seem comfortable as the obligatory brainless blonde.
There are moments of
sheer perfection in the staging – watch, for
example, how a fire axe (Don't ask) passes from hand to hand at one
point in the backstage scene. But a similar set of sight gags
involving plates of sardines never quite come off, and there are too
many points when just a second or two too much passes between things
ought to happen simultaneously.
Still, these are cavils. Noises Off delivers far more genuine laughs than you really have any right to expect from an evening at the theatre. Go, and enjoy.
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