Review: Noises Off, The Deben Players, Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, to May 28
- Credit: Archant
I don’t really like farce, with the exception of Peepolkus’ Spyski (or The Importantance of Being Earnest) and this by Michael Frayn. The clever construction, conceit and execution of both - albeit in different ways - wins me over every time.
Noises Off has the distinction of being the only show - pantos aside - the players have produced twice, with the first time being 26 years ago. One of the stars of that run was longtime company member Peggy Branch, who played the dual roles of actress Dotty Otley and doddery housekeeper Mrs Clackett. She died earlier this year and this production was dedicated to her.
For those not familiar with the show, it’s a farce within a farce. A company of actors are staging Nothing On, the sort of play in which young girls run about in their underwear, old men’s trousers fall down and people are mistaken for other people to the sound of an improbable number of doors constantly banging open and shut.
They’re hopelessly unready come dress rehearsal; baffled by entrances, exits, cues, their lines and problematic props including infinite plates of sardines. Things continue to worsen until, at the end of the run, mounting mishaps and backstage spats derail everything.
Frayn came up with the idea in 1970 while watching a performance of The Two of Us - a farce he’d written for Lynn Redgrave - from the wings. Realising it was funnier from behind than in front he wrote the short-lived one-act play Exits. It was then expanded into Noises Off, which takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.
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You could argue it’s so well written it’s impossible to muck up. I’d say the opposite is true. The timing needs to be choreographed with ballet like precision otherwise everything falls apart for real. Each actor has to walk a tightrope of characture and plausability. I congratulate cast and crew for managing both with aplomb, particularly during the second act. Set backstage during a performance, it’s my favourite part of the piece.
The plum roles of Dotty/Mrs Clackett and director Lloyd Dallas are a gift for Cathy May and Neill Pearce who get the lion’s share of the laughs. But everybody shone at different times. Props to Angela Whatling as the perpetually undressed Vicki/Brooke Ashton, whose modesty I feared for.
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If I had one issue it was from where we were sitting doors were opened so wide you could see other actors waiting to come on and you could sometimes see their heads peeking over the top of the albeit superbly constructed set.