BWW Review: NOISES OFF, Garrick Theatre
Sheer brilliance. Any lesser description wouldn't do justice to the new production of Noises Off that has come barreling into the West End on a wave of relentless belly laughs.
A meta-farce of the highest order, Michael Frayn's Noises Off is a play-within-a-play; perfect comedy fodder for those of us with any insight into the creative process of a live theatre production.
Act I introduces us to a company of actors who are rehearsing a play called Nothing On, and tracks through all of the ridiculous and stereotypical up and downs that go with that process. Actors fluffing their lines, forgetting their blocking, an alcoholic who keeps missing his cues, and a grumpy director who also has a penchant for young women. Act II switches things around quite literally (including a rotated set), and we get to witness the glorious mayhem that's going on backstage during opening night.
Written and set in the 1980s, this show has aged well. Classic farce never gets old, and the thematic nods to the 80s in the set and props strangely add to the hilarity. It does feel mildly uncomfortable that one of the only non-caucasian actors in the cast is given the role of the downtrodden Tim - the put-upon stagehand and dogsbody, who is forced to double up as understudy, deputy stage manager, and all-round skivvy. We laugh because of the brilliant characterisation (and excellent performance by Adrian Richards), but the diversity considerations feel slightly misguided.
Directing a meta-play such as this must be, one assumes, a fairly complex undertaking, and Jeremy Herrin's revival (which began at Lyric Hammersmith) hits all the right notes, the director guiding his stellar company to rapturous applause. The magic that this company creates is, like all good shows, even greater than the sum of its parts.
Sarah Hadland dazzles as Belinda, whose sole focus is to keep everything together when it all starts to unravel backstage. Richard Henders lends an endearing charm to the sensitive Frederick, and Daniel Rigby gives a standout performance as Garry - his mannerisms, physicality and delivery of the nuances in Garry's speech are addictive to watch.
The energy and dexterity with which the cast manage the intricate choreography is disarmingly impressive, and the comedic timing is spot on across the board. Some of Frayn's best lines are given to Simon Rouse as veteran actor Selsdon and Meera Syal as Dotty Otley - genius writing, delivered to perfection.
If you want a textbook definition of farce, then Noises Off is it. Door slams, mistaken identities, pratfalls, an 'accidental' disrobing of various cast members (trousers dropping never gets old) - throw in a farce WITHIN this farce, and you're left with 130 minutes of laughter so compulsive that you'll end up with abdominal pains as (wonderfully) excruciating as Frederick's nosebleeds.
Image credit: Helen Maybanks