Review – Noises Off, The Old Vic

Monday 30 January 2012

“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?

The top flight cast in Lindsay Posner‘s production includes Victoria Wood stalwart Celia Imrie as Dotty Otley, Janie Dee as Belinda and Robert Glenister as the long suffering director Lloyd Dallas

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.

Noises Off runs at The Old Vic until March 10th but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if it transfers.

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.


9 Responses to “Review – Noises Off, The Old Vic”

  1. Christine Kilby Says:

    Great review – I, too, am someone who had a long-standing resistance to farce but I am definitely rediscovering its appeal after such productions as One Man and Noises Off.
    Glad I have found your site, keep up the good work!

  2. Great read as always!! And we completely agree with the stuff about Act 2 – it is just incredibly clever, and we had the same conversation outside about how Frayn worked out how to get each prop into the right place at the right time. It’s sublime stuff really.

    Not sure I would say Acts 1 and 3 are weak – they are still very, very funny. But you’re right that they look slightly tame compared to the glory of Act 2!

    Funnier than One Man Two Guvnors? Possibly…. Frayn’s script is superb….

  3. Sandown Says:

    “How did Frayn work it out ?” (Act II)

    He bought a toy theatre.

  4. Baldassaro Says:

    We had to persuade one of our party (allergic to farces) not to leave after act I, which he found slow and laboured. However, it’s needed to set up all the jokes in acts II and III, so the fact it’s at a slightly lower wattage doesn’t really matter. For me, another spot-on Whingers review.

  5. rochdale Says:

    I wish I’d bought the programme, from what you say it’s sounds funnier than the play. Great as an exercise in staging but miserably short of laughs for me. I did pretend to be enjoying it though. Ha ha, I went, here’s me enjoying myself!

  6. JohnnyFox Says:

    Since it’s all but sold out and/or retailed expensively through ticket touts, the impecunious and daytime shut-ins who clearly comprise the bulk of the Whingerian readership may be interested to know that today is the free-of-charge ‘Understudy Run’ at 2.30pm.

    Allegedly, Ms Imrie and Mr Glenister cannot contractually be understudied and will appear whilst Ms Dee has a good go at the kitchen cupboards or a root round John Lewis.

  7. Simon Parris Says:

    Totally agree about act II. Would see it agin just to marvel at all that action again.

  8. Jaggers Says:

    As a former stage technician, this show sounds like hell, a load of bullshit written by a performer who has never been part of crew and wants to make the real members of the crew suffer horribly. Performers just don’t get it.

    As an audience member, it also just sounds too meta, too fourth-wall-breaking to be truly enjoyable as a piece of theatre. All of the winks to the audience about the troubles of a production wouldn’t be very amusing, but rather remind me of opening nights in years gone by when everything fell apart. I shudder just thinking about it.

  9. I too, saw the original Noises Off, and subsequent productions, being a farce and panto lover – and thus, pedantic in having them ‘done right’, for maximum enjoyment.

    My peeve with this production was in the scene where we watch from backstage, the characters persistently stand in front of the window, so they are in theory in view of the audience when they shouldn’t be – they should be ducking down and crawling along the floor as they cross the window.. that always adds to the mayhem and attempt to keep the play going, whatever chaos is happening at the time. Director – report to me after class……

    Fanny Biro

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