Updated: Jan 27
Review by Daz Gale
There’s nothing like a good rip-roaring farce to take your mind off of the mundanity of everyday life. But when life itself has become farcical in nature in itself (Shout out to our fantastic Government), can anything ever be ridiculous enough to provide true escapism? Following the closure of Come From Away earlier this month, a classic comedy has moved in to its former home of the Phoenix Theatre. While that show was famous for its doors always being open, Noises Off would like to make the same promise... if only they could open the doors.
Noises Off has been entertaining audiences for decades now, winning multiple awards in its time and celebrating its 40th anniversary last year. As part of that celebration a new tour took place which now culminates with a strictly limited 8 week run in the West End. A play within a play, Noises Off focuses on the cast of ‘Nothing On’ as they rehearse for the opening night and follows them on and off stage throughout its tumultuous run. The absurdity escalates throughout each of its three (not two) acts as the farcical nature continues in fabulous form,
Starting fairly conventionally as ‘Nothing On’ begins what we realise is a tech run of the show prior to opening, the audience startingly realise what is happening when the Director makes his way to the stage from the audience. As the cast full of eccentric characters attempt to get to grips with the confusing choices in the play and their own relationships complicate, it all gets a lot more silly with as many twists as there are plates of sardines.
Act one in itself is a very funny and enjoyable show in itself, but it’s when act two starts and everything changes that the true genius of Noises Off shines. As the curtain comes up for act one to start again, this time we are met with a flipped stage, allowing us to watch backstage. The entire act is repeated but this time through a different viewpoint as the audience watch everything that happens in-between what you see on stage. Words will not be able to do justice how exceptionally funny this entire act is. With most of the dialogue repeated from the first act, we are left to a very visual telling of the events that occur in a method of storytelling that demands a lot from the talented cast – of which they deliver effortlessly.
When the curtain comes down after the second act, a short third act is in store. Skipping to the final night of the tour, everything comes to a head in a show that ups the ante continuously, getting more extreme with its absurdities – yet never crosses a line and always has us longing for more.
Michael Frayns writing remains as fantastic now as it did more than 40 years ago (at least I imagine). This was the second production of Noises Off I had seen personally, and knowing what was in store didn’t impact the events negatively at all. Sharp humour and brilliantly written characters, each of whom are bursting with personality (and their own improvisation style) leads to not only an abundance of wit and humour but intelligence in the execution of the dialogue.
Noises Off is a demanding show and for that, the direction can’t be easy. (Just ask the shows fictional director Lloyd) The intricate nature of the direction from Lindsay easily rise to the occasion with consistently complicated but flawlessly performed choices. Making full use of Simon Higlett’s set design which impresses in its detail on stage and “backstage”. Noises Off is a beast of a show when it comes to its props and requirements for such. Even if it is all just doors and sardines, what a way to use them!
The writing, direction and set design are set at such a standard that it requires a certain level of skill from a highly talented cast to match this ridiculously high bar. Luckily, there is no shortage of talent when it comes to the stunning cast of Noises Off. Felicity Kendal follows up her scene-stealing comic turn in Anything Goes with an equally mesmerising performance as the eccentric and over the top Dotty. Having the unenviable task of weloming the audience in to the madness of this world, she does a fine job of steering the ship in a performance it is easy to fall in love with.
Tracy-Ann Oberman is an absolute standout as Belinda, clearly having the time of her life as she camps it up as much as humanly possible. Her funniest moments come when Belinda has to go off-script with a series of exaggerated movements and speech. Her interaction with all of the cast members and varying relationships with them all are a joy to witness, especially the double act she forms with her stage partner Frederick, wonderfully played by Jonathan Coy.
Joseph Millson is a marvel as Garry in a versatile performance filled with brilliant running jokes (such as his inability to finish a you know) and a touch of malice as the events unfold. Sasha Frost delights as the sweet natured Brooke in a vulnerable performance, while Pepter Lunkuse and Hubert Burton make a great double act as Poppy and Tim, providing one of the most comedic highlights of the evening in the final act.
Matthew Kelly is an undoubted highlight as Selsdon. From the moment he nonchalantly struts to the stage, he delivers a performance that demands your attention and always delivers a laugh. Absolutely hysterical in the role, he plays an absolute blinder in a true masterclass performance. The cast are completed by Alexander Hanson whose frustration as director Lloyd is a joy to witness and adds an extra layer to the play within a play.
If laughter is the best medicine, Noises Off could cure even the most miserable of people. While its writing has always been sensational, it is perhaps funnier now than ever before thanks to its inspired direction and stellar cast. After a challenging time (and indeed a rough start to the year for me personally), being able to laugh so openly and unashamedly in a theatre with hundreds of other likeminded people really is one of the best aspects of being a theatre lover. Quite possibly the funniest thing to ever grace the West End, this really is the best kind of farce there is.
Noises Off plays at the Phoenix Theatre until 11th March. Click HERE for tickets.
Photos by Nobby Clarke