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23 May 2012


Noises Off
Old Vic Production
Wednesday 23rd May 2012

This much-loved farce has been delighting audiences, and exhausting actors, for thirty years, and has lost none of its charm along the way.  Whether mocking farce, theatrical people or theatre itself, Noises Off does so fondly and intelligently, heightening it above the usual whoops-there-go-my-trousers level of other examples of the genre.  Although, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of descending pairs of trousers too.

Opening during a sort-of dress rehearsal of a fictional farce, Act 1 introduces us to the eclectic cast and frantic crew of 'Nothing On' before it begins a National Tour.  Each character brings his own brand of theatrics to the mix, challenging their sarcastic director - hilariously played by Robert Glenister - to the brink of his control.  After the interval, now familiar with the staging, we watch a matinee performance one month into their run from a wonderfully constructed backstage view, and then from the front again with a performance near the end of their ten-week tour.

The comedy comes from the actors' incompetence in trying to avoid or cover up their frequent on-stage mistakes, while being distracted by their off-stage lives.  The casting is full of gems, but Celia Imrie steals the show from the outset with her bumbling Dotty, who develops from lust to bloodlust towards Garry, a controlled Jamie Glover using all of his lithe physicality to launch himself up a flight of stairs with his shoelaces tied together.  Janie Dee plays the motherly gossip Belinda with reliable style, and is particularly attention grabbing in the almost entirely mimed Act 2.

The precision in the direction of this piece is clear, and dexterously delivered throughout by the hardworking cast.  Act 2 is definitely the comic highlight, with the final act never quite reaching back up to the same laughter level, but concluding with the inevitable descent into chaos. 

Farce seems to be back in fashion - I have seen One Man, Two Guv'nors and The Ladykillers in the West End within the last year and What the Butler Saw has opened now too - and Noises Off lovingly pokes fun at them all.  Hilarious.

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