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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
NOISES OFF
at the Old Vic

FARCE WITHIN A FARCE
By ROBERT GORE-LANGTON

  Robert Glenister, Janie Dee, Karl Johnson, Paul Ready and Aisling Loftus/ Ph: Jay Brookes

Noises Off, a farce within a farce, remains one of the West End’s most reliable great laugh-getters, as this lovely, roof-raising revival confirms. Its author, Michael Frayn, now 78, watched from the stalls with a smile of paternal indulgence while the auditorium erupted around him, just as it did when the play first opened for its epic five-year run back in 1982.
 
If you have never seen it, it should definitely be on your list of things to do before you die. It is about a fifth-rate acting company staging a sex farce called Nothing On – the sort of naff title once typical of this sadly long-dead genre of “adult comedy” exemplified by Ray Cooney’s contemporaneous Run for Your Wife.
 
The plot takes us from the disastrous dress rehearsal just before opening night in Weston-super-Mare. The play we watch involves sardines, seven constantly slamming doors, a plot ladled with illicit sex and even a fake sheikh. Then a month later – in a brilliant reversal – we see the same show from backstage once it has been on the road for a month, by which time the cast members have stopped calling each other “my precious” and the knives are out. The last act – three months later at a different, far-flung regional theatre – we see from the front again when everything has gone wrong, door handles routinely detach, phones get unplugged and the play is enveloped in chaos and sabotage.
 
The actors in this all work like dogs. Celia Imrie is a delight as the charlady who can’t remember her lines let alone her sardines; Janie Dee is unforgettable as the actress who is (the spoof biography in the playscript tells us) a veteran of such classics as Twice Two Is Sex; and Karl Johnson’s house burglar is a marvelous, alcoholic relic from Shakespearean rep.
 
Jonathan Coy is tremendous, too, as the actor who requires motivation for all his lines, a mask for his ineffable stupidity. Robert Glenister, as the show’s director, exudes threadbare patience, and there’s superb work from Amy Nuttall as the girl permanently in her underwear and from Aisling Loftus as the heartbroken stage manager.
 
Well orchestrated by director Lindsay Posner, this version lacks by a fraction the finesse of the National Theatre revival in 2000. But you simply cannot argue with the laughter being generated at the Old Vic. Is there, though, a vein of intellectually snooty revenge on the theatre generally somewhere in this giant in-joke?
 
I don’t know. Whatever, Noises Off remains a glorious parody of a farce (complete with trousers around ankles, flying sardines and near-constant panic) to which the author adds a new dimension – his own nerdy, watchmaker-like feel for precision. The BMW build-quality of Noises Off is amazing. Sitting back and watching all the cogs mesh adds a second level of delight to an exhaustingly funny evening.

 


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