Writer: Michael Frayn
Director: Ben Occhipinti
Cards on the table. We like it when things go arse-over-tit. And for every Shakespearean wonder of monolithic talent, there’s a pratfall which gets a firmer response. And in recent years, the advancements in staging and lighting and video design affords production companies the opportunities for everything to go wrong.
But for forty years Noises Off has captured the quintessential ‘Britishness’ of farcical humour, where the punches are thrown upwards, inwards, outwards and all over the damn theatre in an explosive display of physical humour. Michael Frayn’s comedic piece, of a company of less than perfect performers, try their hardest to stage a show, only for sexual misdemeanours to unearth, bones to shatter and dignities to exit stage right.
And while the world may have its eyes turned to Mischief of another nature, the ingenuity and lasting demonstration of Frayn’s written brilliance exists in the replication of the same act three times without losing polish. Told from the audience’s perspective and behind the scenes of three separate performances – each time devolving into more unmitigated chaos. The plot of the story, well, of this story, is a touring company attempts to stage a farcical comedy of mistaken identities and liaisons titled Nothing On.
Ben Occhipinti’s second act hits the firmer ground with established momentum built in the initial act, it offers a much-required sense of urgency, catapulting the cast around the stage – Connor Going’s quite literally hurling himself on occasion. But this energetic gymnastics across Liz Cooke’s set design highlights those not giving themselves over to the production, characters who should have more pronounced movements feel static against the likes of Going or Deirdre Davis’ life of the party Dotty and packing one heck of a wallop.
It is also, truth be told, where we recognise ourselves within the cast – manoeuvring the absurdity of the script into the realistic, amplifying the farce into a variety of logical steps. We recognise the jealous pangs in the love triangles and the tiring need for approval and hard work from Richard Colvin’s tired stage-hand Tim. Hell, we even sympathise with Selsdon’s turn to the bottle when the play starts to unravel all around them. There’s the care we form for these characters, Occhipinti does a fine job forging a connection with the audience for the character behind the performance, whether it be Poppy’s perseverance and misplaced affection, or Alyson Orr’s determination to hold things together.
Frayn’s annihilating comedy aims directly for the gut, achieving an honest belly laugh, wholesome while parading the characters for their shortcomings and ‘deserved’ punishments. Wholly authentic, and at times pitiful, the cast of Occhipinti’s revival is a delightful bunch to watch. From the exuberant misunderstandings from Rachael McAllister and Keith Macpherson to the utterly shameless abuses handed to the thoroughly charming Meg Chaplin and Richard Colvin as the back-stage hands and management doing their best to cobble together some form of show.
If only the remainder of the cast could get behind this dedication to the absurd. There are laughs for sure, but areas where the knife can be twisted and are not, or where the physicality carries more weight and isn’t exploited, are niggles which stop the production from excelling.
Battering down the preconceptions of a production which goes so awfully, woefully wrong, Noises Off is a meticulous piece of stagecraft, synchronised with its physical dexterity, near misses and confusion behind every door. For forty years, Frayn’s piece has inspired as many as it has enthralled, and continues to find a tight sense of logic within the farce – delivering warming laughter to theatre goers all over.
Runs until 1 October 2022 | Image: Fraser Band