Noises Off – Richmond Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Michael Frayn

Director: Lindsay Posner

Celebrating its 40th year anniversary with a rather starry touring production, comedy Noises Off arrives in Richmond for this week. As funny as ever and much funnier that the shows it has inspired such as The Play That Goes Wrong, Michael Frayn’s farce may be a light-hearted entertainment for its audience, but it stretches its actors to their limits. There is much joy in watching them sweat.

As it follows the fortunes of a travelling theatre company of mediocre actors, Noises Off is the perfect play to put on the road. And at press night, in a case of life imitating art, hitches delayed the start of the show for over 20 minutes. But all is forgiven once the play-within-a-play begins with Felicity Kendal coming on as Dotty whose acting skills are akin to Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques. It’s a good role for Kendal, not quite what we expect from her. While she doesn’t signal any affection for her supposed lover in the cast of Nothing On, her perfect comic timing and laboured facial expressions set the tone for the next three acts to come, each more chaotic than the last.

Kendal is joined on stage by a strong cast who work hard making sure that every door is opened and shut at the right time and that bottles of whiskey and bunches of flowers are all in the correct spot. But as the play continues the timing becomes more difficult as the cast must now remember to open and close doors at the wrong time, and bottles of whiskey and bunches of flowers must now be placed in the wrong location. It’s a miracle that it all comes together, especially in the second act, which is mostly played in silence.

Tracy-Ann Oberman plays gossipy Belinda, who manages to remain sane as the show falls apart around her while Matthew Kelly plays the would-be alcoholic and hard-of-hearing Selsdon, constantly coming on stage at the wrong time. There is much to enjoy seeing these well-known actors make fools of themselves on stage. Jonathan Coy plays Belinda’s husband Frederick with the tired resignation of Hyacinth Bucket’s husband Richard. Frederick thinks he’s in a better play and asks the director (played by Alexander Hanson) for backstory to explain his character’s behaviour.

Each act is played at breakneck speed with some very physical comedy coming from Joseph Millson as the rather smarmy Garry, and so it’s a shame that the pace is upset with a 10-minute pause between Acts Two and Three. Perhaps it’s to make sure that every prop is the in the right position, but it seems more likely that it’s used to give the actors a breather before they have to embark on Nothing On once again.

Noises Off is not deep, but it’s very clever, and its old-fashioned fun seems like a delicious guilty pleasure in the midst of 2022.

Runs until 8 October 2022 and then continues to tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A guilty pleasure

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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