Hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever written, this current production of Michael Frayn's Noises Off enjoyed successful runs at the Old Vic and the West End's Novello Theatre in 2012 and is now touring the UK. Even now, towards the end of it's tour, the play is far from "on it's last legs", which is more than can be said for Nothing On, the play within the play that focuses highly on doors and sardines of which 13.4 million are eaten daily in Great Britain. The word sardine is derived from the French word... sardine.
The fast-paced, highly eccentric farce follows the director and touring company of Nothing On, a play about to receive it's world premiere at the Grand Theatre, Weston-Super-Mare prior to a national tour. We see it during the first (and final) dress rehearsal in Weston-Super-Mare, backstage a month later at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne and the final performance two months later at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees. Each of the three acts takes us through act one of Nothing On - we essentially see that three times, but from different perspectives.
Tired director (Neil Pearson - Bridget Jones's Diary) enters through the auditorium where he spends most of act one at wits end, shouting direction at an awful cast. Maureen Beattie who plays Dotty Otley who plays Mrs Clackett provides much of the humour as she totters around the stage, constantly forgetting her newspaper and sardine props. Geoffrey Freshwater who plays Selsdon Mowbray who plays the Burglar is also a delight with flawless comic timing.
Geoffrey Freshwater (Selsdon Mowbray) and cast. (Photo by Johan Persson)
The second act, seen from backstage has no dialogue off-stage - we hear the on stage performance whilst the action is played out in mime. It is here where the discipline of the cast is truly evident as 'being in the right place at the right time' is more than crucial. Unlike the Nothing On cast, here they are slick, well-rehearsed and timed to perfection as madcap, slapstick profanity is rife with sardines, whiskey, flowers, a cactus plant, missing props, love affairs, axe-weilding maniacs, nosebleeds and plenty of trousers around ankles are all thrown into the mix. Most of the audience were in unstoppable hysterics - admittedly I found it entertaining but in this particular act there was a little too much happening to concentrate fully.
The final act is an absolute disaster... not for our cast, but for that of Nothing On and the build up to the climax is where the play really takes off. Not one thing goes right and by the time the curtains have fallen off during the final bow you leave feeling exhausted but thoroughly entertained.
Noises Off is relentless hilarity and runs at the Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 29th June - you can book tickets here.
Cast List: Maureen Beattie, Neil Pearson, David Bark-Jones, Thomasin Rand, Danielle Flett, Chris Larkin, Sasha Waddell, Simon Bubb and Geoffrey Freshwater.