It’s 40 years since Noises Off burst on to the West End stage and it has maintained the reputation of being one of the greatest British comedies. Tonight this Theatre Royal Bath production hit the stage of York Theatre Royal and it’s safe to say that the audience loved it.
By Angie Millard
Photos by Pamela Raith
It is a play within a play in which the behaviour of the actors backstage moves from final rehearsals of the fictional play, Nothing On, to their tour. Here we are treated to the performance of a matinee in Ashton-under-Lyne as backstage shenanigans accelerate, before the final performance in Stockton-on Tees which is viewed from the perspective of the audience. The situations are classic and when we finally see the show from out front we have all the inside knowledge.
It has similarities to many of Alan Aykbourn’s plays where time and place is used creatively. It plays tricks with our perception of events and we see real venom and heartbreak, masked by farcical theatricality.
I wasn’t sure how the play would have weathered 40 years of popularity but intricately plotted (around an impressive set of doors and two plates of sardines) and acted with breakneck speed, it couldn’t help but entertain.
Comic tropes, such as a girl in stockings and suspenders or men losing their trousers, are combined with physical slapstick to deliver the expected comedy. However, the first night audience were treated to the real life crisis of the curtain failing to rise and hilariously it was mirrored in the plot of the show. When the real life stage manager came on to apologise for the hiatus the audience weren’t sure if this was part of the play or not.
A farce of this kind relies on the pace and timing of the ensemble. Lucy Robinson was an anchor to the cast in her role of ‘the show must go on’ actress, Liza Goddard unwound before one’s eyes as the old stager, and Lisa Ambalavanar captured the style of the ingenue perfectly. Matthew Kelly, playing an old soak, had some audience-pleasing moments. Mark Middleton and Simon Shepherd as thwarted lovers built their performances during the action of the second and third acts to achieve the rhythm of knockabout comedy and frenetic action, but the star of the show was the York reluctant curtain. No one can deny that it was, unintentionally, pure theatre.
Noises Off is being performed at York Theatre royal from 31 October to 4 November 2023. It’s directed by Lindsay Posner. The Designer is Simon Higlett. Lighting design is by Paul Pyant, and sound design by Gregory Clarke
Liza Goddard – Dotty Otley
Matthew Kelly – Selsdon Mowbray
Simon Shepherd – Lloyd Dallas
Simon Coates – Fredrick Fellowes
Lucy Robinson – Belinda Blair
Daniel Rainford – Tim Allgood
Mark Middleton – Garry Lejeune
Lisa Ambalavanar – Brooke Ashton
Nikhita Lesler – Poppy Norton-Taylor