The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Summer 2019; Garrick Theatre Winter 2019-2020
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
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 any more.
You should be able to see the
comic possibilities, all of which Frayn explots beautifully.
A successful farce requires
three things: lots of doors, tight choreography, and speed.
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 that 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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