Writer: Michael Frayn
Director: Lindsay Posner
Fresh from the West End, the revival of Michael Frayn’s 1982 Noises Off brings its brand of traditional British farce to Norwich. The play-within-a-play structure takes us across three acts of the production journey of Nothing On from its dress rehearsal beginning, behind the scenes, and on stage to the final curtain.
With a set containing seven doors, it’s clear from the outset that this will be a door-slamming farce full of quick jokes, mistaken identities, and precision timing. The stage is a character in and of itself in this production with its careful attention to detail, creating transitions between back and onstage. The staging though, does also cause an issue with what should be very tight pacing as it creates an extensive break between acts two and three putting a sudden halt to what should feel like a story careening out of control.
This is very much a show of two halves, with a cast labouring in the first act to bring the script to life. The pacing is painfully slow, with little development or room to create a tempo. Indeed, by the end of the first act, the audience finds themselves very much siding with the exasperated director who pleads for them to just hurry up and get the last two lines out so that everyone can go for a break.
The second and third acts, however, are another matter entirely. With complex timings, running gags left and right, and some first-rate physical comedy the audience is laughing throughout.
The ensemble cast shows moments of what the show could be, and are genuinely funny in the back half of the performance but there is a lack of chemistry between them to the extent that the behind-the-scenes romantic subplots fall entirely flat.
The cast is generally steady although there are a few times, particularly in act one, where it’s unclear if fluffed lines and cues are intentional or not. There are certainly still standouts in this performance, however. Daniel Rainford as Tim has perhaps the least lines but delivers them with perfection. His awkward, out-of-step, presence gives the pace intentionally jarring moments that work well. Lisa Ambalavanar certainly has more lines and finds a way to keep delivering the same thing over and again becoming funnier with each act.
While there are strong moments in this show, the real issue is that it’s dated. Written in 1982, it is still relying on caricatures and jokes which landed forty years ago. The sheikh character quickly becomes uncomfortable, the whole issue of romantic subplots feels reductive, and the script as a whole forces the performers to rely on farcical traditions too heavily.
It must be said though, that while this is an uneven production, it does build throughout and become funnier with each set change and brings with it a genuine timeless charm of traditional farce.
Runs Until: 11 November 2023