Thursday, 13 July 2017

Noises Off, July 12, 2017 ***

By Michael Frayn, by Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company 
At Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until August 12, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts Online on Thurs July 13, 207, and later in print. KH
 Noises Off_ Nicki Wendt, Louise Siversen- photo Stephen Henry
 Noises Off by Michael Frayn is a rollicking, English farce about a play-within-a-play that goes completely off the rails both on the stage and behind the scenes.

Noises Off bounced onto the London stage in 1982 with its boisterous physical comedy and cleverly constructed comic narrative, then Frayn repeatedly reworked the script for ensuing seasons.

Sam Strong’s production, with its talented ensemble, is partially successful in delivering Frayn’s verbal and physical comedy, eliciting big laughs when actors forget lines, get drunk, fall over, drop their trousers or lose props.

Each of the three acts of Noises Off contains the first act of a deplorable, amateurish, bedroom farce called Nothing On.

Firstly, we witness a disastrous dress rehearsal, then backstage mayhem during a matinee and, finally, a performance near the end of the tour in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

The opening scenes are very funny, particularly with Louise Siversen hilariously switching accents and physicality as Dotty, the addled star of Nothing On who in turn plays chatty housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett.

The Act Two antics are another highlight, as characters struggle silently but frenetically to stop the backstage bedlam of lovers’ tiffs, cruel pranks and even an axe-attack, bleeding into the onstage performance.

Simon Burke is suitably pompous and sarcastic as Lloyd, the director of Nothing On who is having it off with despondent Assistant Stage Manager, Poppy (Emily Goddard), and with ditzy, short-sighted Brooke (Libby Munro), the barely-clothed ingénue.

Hugh Parker captures the vibrating anxiety of needy actor, Freddie, and Nicki Wendt has an entertainingly wry quality as sensible Belinda who unsuccessfully mediates off-stage conflicts and desperately tries to save the show onstage.

Ray Chong Nee performs a comically daring slapstick tumble down stairs but is not always credible as Cockney Garry, while James Saunders captures the frantic edginess of Tim, the over-worked Stage Manager, and Steven Tandy is effectively daffy as Selsdon, the boozy, elderly actor.

The classic farce elements of Frayn’s play demand tight cueing, impeccable comic timing and a relentless pace, but this production, despite having some neatly staged and funny scenes, falters at times and loses its rhythm.

The timing must be perfect at every moment for all elements of a classic farce – doors opening, shutting and jamming, actors banging into walls, falling over furniture, losing clothes and props – for it to be successful.

Despite these issues, the audience is enthusiastic and entertained by this rowdy, spirited performance of Frayn’s classic farce.

By Kate Herbert

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