“If we can just get through the play once tonight – for doors and sardines. That’s what it’s all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s – that’s the theatre. That’s life.”
Continuing our January mopping up of the theatrical spills we’ve somehow previously missed…
Phil is embarrassed to admit that he saw the original production (with its second cast) of Noises Off. His even-ruddier-than-usual glow is partly down to the fact that it was almost 30 years ago and also because – unlike the majority of the world’s theatregoers – he emitted barely more than the occasional chuckle while the audience around him squealed with delight.
But time and not a little help from One Man, Two Guvnors seem to have gone some way to healing his long dysfunctional farce funny bone. Such miracles can happen: witness the Whingers volte face regarding mime, an art form previously given a very wide berth until The Boy With Tape On His Face and The Artist opened their eyes to its possibilities.
Anyhoo. Farce. And Mime. Despite Phil’s most sonorous guffaw resulting from some gloriously silly Act III business with a telephone, by far the funniest scene of Michael Frayn‘s now-considered-a-classic-comedy is the largely dialogue free Act II which left the Whingers wondering a) how on earth do the cast remember it all? and b) how on earth did Frayn work it all out? One might surmise Mr F is also a dab hand with a Rubik’s cube.
Noises Off opens with the final rehearsal of Act I of a touring farce Nothing On before its opening at the Grand Theatre Weston-super-Mare. After the interval we see their Act I again twice: from backstage a few weeks later on tour (our Act II) and then again in our Act III from the audience’s perspective near the end of the tour with an exhausted set of injured actors struggling with a performance that is going horribly wrong.
Over the course of the play liaisons among the cast and crew are formed and broken and the comical misunderstandings between them are even more complicated than the farce they try to perform. Everyone ends up in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time in the world of farce) and actors are late with their cues, did Frayn train by running the British railway network?
It’s all marvellous fun but its strength (Act II) throws its weakness (Acts I & III) into relief somewhat. Still, you’ve got to laugh.
For once we must recommend purchasing the programme which contains Noises Off‘s traditional programme-within-a-programme for Nothing On. This contains cod (sardine?) biographies of the Nothing On cast and adverts for its Weston-super-Mare run, plus a splendidly pretentious essay about the semantics of farce. Very, very funny.