After watching a performance of his 1970 farce ‘The Two of Us’ from backstage at the Garrick Theatre, celebrated playwright Michael Frayn commented “It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.” His “farce from behind” started as the short one-act play ‘Exits’ in 1977 before being expanded into what is now ‘Noises Off‘.
This multi-award winning play premiered at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in London to rapturous reviews in 1982 starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson before transferring to the Savoy Theatre where it ran until 1987, with five successive casts. Returning to the West End for the fourth time, the recent Lyric Hammersmith Theatre production transfers to the Garrick Theatre for a limited season and London audiences can see Michael Frayn’s side-splitting backstage comedy once again.
‘Noises Off‘ is a play within a play, presented in three acts as the actors attempt to stage a production of a sex farce called ‘Nothing On’. Act One is set at the technical rehearsal of ‘Nothing On’ and it’s the night before the first performance and the cast are hopelessly unready. Act Two shows a Wednesday matinée performance a month after opening from backstage and follows the deteriorating relationships of the actors as they try and battle on through the performance. In Act Three, we’re at a performance near the end of the ten-week run. Relationships between the cast have soured considerably, the set is breaking down and props are winding up all over the place. The actors remain determined at all costs to cover up the mounting chaos and begin ad-libbing trying to recover the performance and come to some sort of an end!
This West End cast consists of BAFTA Television Award nominee Meera Syal (Beautiful Thing, Absolutely Anything and The Kumars at No. 42) as Dotty Otley portraying Mrs Clackett, Lloyd Owen (Cleaning Up, Monarch of the Glen and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) as ‘Nothing On’s director Lloyd Dallas, BAFTA winning Daniel Rigby (BBC Two’s Eric & Ernie and One Man, Two Guvnor) as Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain, Simon Rouse (Hangmen, Local Hero, The Bill) is Selsdon Mowbray as the Burglar, Sarah Hadland (Miranda, Horrible Histories, Admissions) as Belinda Blair, starring as Flavia Brent, Richard Henders (Company, The Beaux Stratagem, The White Guard) as Frederick Fellowes portraying Philip Brent, Lisa McGrillis (Mum, This House, The Pitmen Painters) as Brooke Ashton and Vicki, with Anjli Mohindra (Bodyguard, Wild Bill, Legends of Tomorrow) playing Poppy Norton Taylor and Adrian Richards (The Actor’s Nightmare, Eden, The Winter’s Tale) as Tim Allgood.
Merra Syal is hilarious. Opening the play, her cockney voiced Mrs Clackett just trying to make a plate of sardines is a stark contrast to the actor underneath, matriarchal Dotty Otley speaking the Queens English. Syal encompasses both physically giving an energetic performance throughout. Wandering around the auditorium instructing his actors and calling rehearsal, director Lloyd Dallas is expertly played by Lloyd Owen. Exasperated by his actors inability to get through technical rehearsal without stopping, an uproarious moment ensues as director is forced to coddle a recently heart-broken actor through stage direction giving him something to hold onto (literally) in order to continue rehearsal. Every directors worst nightmare! Owen’s strong performance made it easy to believe the director had a celebrated history and was somehow tricked into directing ‘Nothing On’ for Otstar Productions Ltd.
Daniel Rigby is brilliant. He delivers a strong leading man in Roger Tramplemain trying in vain to bed sexpot Vicki and a seemingly typical drama school trained “serious” actor in Garry Lejeune. Running all over the set and eventually crashing through it, Rigby delivers an athletic performance and one of the most animated of the evening. Rigby’s ‘Nothing On’ character Garry has a habit of spewing out words without actually saying anything of meaning. In this spirit, I’d have to say Rigby’s performance is just… y’know? Simon Rouse is priceless and delivers a solid performance throughout. More Selsdon than Burglar, he’s hard of hearing and prone to drink, which makes for a rollicking performance as he forgets lines, entrances and cannot hear prompts. Sarah Hadland is sensational. Attempting to save the show in the third act and adopting the adage ‘the show must go on’, Belinda Blair does her best at keeping it together while directing everyone to the end of the show. Hadland does an excellent job and you can sense the horror and almost see the tears of Belinda Blair behind the Stepford-smile of character Flavia Brent. Her speech, physicality, characterisation and comic timing throughout is a perfect combination of a seasoned actor having the time of her life. Richard Henders is a lot of fun. With physical comedy, Henders portrays ‘Nothing On’s Philip Brent with aplomb and his Frederick Fellowes is a hilariously broken man. Lisa McGrillis gave a fantastic performance. Her Vicki was the perfect sexpot and we saw a full range of emotion as actor Brooke Ashton from vaguely listening to her fellow actors throughout technical rehearsal to a rampaging scorned lover. Anjli Mohindra and Adrian Richards, our stage manager and scene master respectively, give there all as the long-suffering crew behind the scenes of ‘Nothing On’. Having to understudy, erect the set and run personal errands Poppy and Adrian prove the show could not go on without them as they are played with energy and pizazz by Mohindra and Richards.
Recently celebrating his 86th birthday, it was a real treat to have Michael Frayn in the audience who rightly received a standing ovation for his iconic play. Premiering in 1982, the show hasn’t dated and is just as side-splitting as when it first opened. As the original play that goes wrong, ‘Noises Off‘ is a brilliant farce and this top notch production enjoys a welcome return to the West End. Bringing the house down at the Garrick Theatre, make sure you see ‘Noises Off‘ during it’s limited run until January 2020.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Helen Maybanks
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