Review: NOISES OFF, Phoenix Theatre

Lindsay Posner's latest revival is charming, farcical and full of frivolity.

Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

Noises OffWhat's that famous quote; never work with children or animals? After a peek behind the curtain at Noises Off, there should be no doubt that drunks, adulterers, or actors prone to nosebleeds should be added to that list.

Written in 1982 by Michael Frayn, Noises Off refers to the stage direction for offstage noise. The chatter of backstage life inspired Frayn to create this play within a play, full of slapstick comedy, tax evasion and dissonant opposition between the onstage and offstage action.

The characters we meet are the cast and crew of a touring production of Nothing On, a fictional tale of sexual frivolity. As many actors will surely tell you, Noises Off echoes the resounding chaos of touring theatre with affairs and grudges in ample supply. The cast are unafraid to lean into their character's (and their character's character's) flaws; in truth, there's a wicked sense of pleasure watching them tumble about in complete disarray.

Tracy-Ann Oberman is deliciously indulgent as Belinda Blair, perpetually bound to caretake her doddering stage husband Frederick Fellows, played by Jonathan Coy. The script is packed with thespian endearment, but this pairing seems genuine and offers frequent rests to the bustling goings on. Alexander Hanson and Matthew Kelly feature as uptight director Lloyd Dallas and forgetful Selsdon Mowbray, along with Sasha Frost as the demure Brooke Ashton. Nothing On is barely held together by Hubert Burton and Pepter Lunkuse as bewildered stage management team Tim and Poppy.

Joseph Millson shines for his physical comedy as short-fused Gary Lejeune, proving to his co-workers and audience alike that nobody will stand between him and his beloved, Dotty Otley. Felicity Kendal potters back and forth in rhythmical succession as Dotty, with a plate of sardines never far from her hand. Renown for her role as Barbara Good in The Good Life, Kendal is ever-familiar with the stage, making her debut on the boards at only 9 months old in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Director Lindsay Posner is no stranger to nonsensical calamity, having directed the Old Vic, West End and UK Tour revivals. There is no doubt that Posner enabled a thematic consistency, with dramatic choices in keeping with a farcical structure that audiences know and love. The physical comedy is bold, with act two featuring enough men in pants to rival Magic Mike.

Simon Higlett's set is gloriously embellished and almost too precious to house so much destruction. Acts one and three are hosted from the audience's view of the Nothing On set, whilst act two gave way to even more chaos across the wooden backstage framework.

Despite the high energy, too much chaos begs for silence, at least for every joke to fully land. The second act feels all-consuming and, although this lends to Frayn's intended reveal, it's hard to keep up with who's angry at whom amidst a constant clambering of bodies.

If fictional backstories and juicy gossip are your thing, the programme hosts a rather amusing mock programme for Nothing On. You can read each of the character's biographies as if they were true to life people, with nods to their interwoven affairs and past experiences.

After multiple Broadway and West End revivals over the years, it seems only fitting that this worldwide hit should return to the heart of London after embarking on a 40th Anniversary UK tour in 2022.

Noises Off is at The Phoenix Theatre until 11 March 2023

Photo Credit: Nobby Clarke


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