Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 8th July, 2013. To read the original, please click here
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”, Mel Brooks once claimed, which is an aphorism that quite neatly sums up the central workings of farce. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, undoubtedly one of the most complete farces of the genre, takes Brooks’ maxim as far as it can possibly go, the result being one of the funniest and, remarkably in comedy, one of the most timeless theatrical comedies ever made.
The play revolves around the dress rehearsal of Nothing On, a play-within-a-play that is nothing other than a shambolic and badly timed production, riddled with missed cues and fudged lines. In the play’s opening act, former Drop the Dead Donkey star Neil Pearson, who plays director Lloyd Dallas, is stage left, shouting directions to the cast members from within the audience. It’s a brilliant touch and it immediately invites the audience in to the production; the audience feels as if they are in on the joke, which is an essential element to farce. It is, quite simply, comedy at its most involving.
The third act bookends the first act; that is, that the same set – the set of the fictional play, Nothing On – is used for both acts. While the first act depicts the dress rehearsal the night before opening night, the third act is the production of Nothing On nearing the end of its ten-week run in the Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, with offstage tensions among the fictional cast members spilling onto the production of Nothing On. The success and true genius of Noises Off, however, is in the second act; an almost entirely silent act, as seen from backstage, that relies almost purely on physical comedy. The dynamics are brilliantly executed and in sharp contrast with the fictional play, Nothing On. Each member of the cast is totally in synch with one another in a performance that is high octane, unpredictable and utterly hilarious.
What is most remarkable about Noises Off is that it somehow manages to eschew the self-absorbed satire of many plays and films that use a theatrical or Hollywood setting to fire out industry in-jokes, which had the play been written by an American would almost have been impossible. Instead, Michael Frayn has given us a comedy, which, like the best British comedy, relies on the comedy of frustration; the more Neil Pearson’s Lloyd becomes frustrated by the farcical nature of the shambolic production of Nothing On, the more the audience laughs. Where Shakespeare used the play-within-the-play in Hamlet as an opportunity for Hamlet to “catch the conscience of the king”, Frayn uses the-play-within-the-play as an opportunity to find comedy in chaos, as only farce can.
Uproariously funny and performed by an ensemble cast that are perfectly locked- in with one another, The Old Vic’s production of Noises Off is world class theatre at its best, which is not only hilarious, but also makes one appreciate the skill and craft that comedy demands of its actors.
Noises Off runs in The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 8th – 13th July 2013 at 7.30pm. Matinee: 13th July at 2.30pm. Tickets available from €18. For more information and to book tickets go to www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie
Star rating: 5 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Written by: Michael Frayn
Directed by: Lindsay Posner
Cast: David Bark- Jones, Maureen Beattie, Simon Bubb, Danielle Flett, Geoffrey Freshwater, Chris Larkin, Neil Pearson, Thomasin Rand, Sasha Waddell.