Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2022

Noises Off

Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Farce, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

Directed by Lindsay Posner, Designer Simon Higlett, Lighting Designer Paul Pyant, Sound Designer Gregory Clarke, Composer Will Stuart, Assistant Director George Jibson, Movement and Fight Director Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-Annie ltd, Casting Director Ginny Schiller CDG, Voice Coach Charmian Hoare,

Production Management Tom Nickson/Phoebe Bath, Costumer Supervisor Binnie Bowerman, Props Supervisor Katy Clare Brooks, CSM Paul Ferris, DSM William Buckenham, Technical ASM Amy Palmer, Wardrobe-Master Bunny, Production Technician & Tour Relighter Andy Furby, Production Carpenter & Tour Bill Gibson, Production Photographs Nobby Clark, National Press. Lewi Jenkins for Storyhouse PR, Tour Marketing & Publicity Jane Morgan Associates.

Till October 22nd then touring


Sardines. And doors. Remember what the play’s about. Michael Frayn in fact realised 20 years on from its 1982 launch that he’d got a door entrance (to backstage, now in fact out front) in Act 2 of Noises Off cued wrong; and changed it. It’s a love-letter to farces but most of all the theatre. Every theatrical type you’ve ever dreamed of never meeting is here. Is it as some say the funniest play ever written? Certainly the most ingenious in living memory. Only Ayckbourn rivals it.

That 20 years on might have been the week two Japanese productions played opposite each other and one excluded the third act. Oddly that was the year it was last at Theatre Royal Brighton. Now 20 years on again as it returns directed with go-for-broke pace by Lindsay Posner with a set by Simon Higlett, nothing can possibly go wrong. Nothing a damaged Alpha male, an Alpha minus director and an alcoholic, an apologetic dimwit, a distressed stage manager, a lens-losing leading ingenue, a supremely coping leading lady and heroically coping ASM/emergency walk-on called Tim can’t possibly fix. Unless several are trying to kill each other backstage.

Brighton’s seen The Play That Goes Wrong explode like a Chinese New Year firecracker. Twice. Noises Off depth-charges the whole genre of farce. With devastating logic. Every moment builds up like Duchamp’s Machine that destroys itself.

First, there’s the farce-within-a-farce, Nothing On, the touring Brian Rix-style vehicle we see in three stages. A tech/dress rehearsal onstage; mid-run matinee backstage; last legs onstage again. Let’s avoid confusion and only use the farce’s actors’ names played by the real actors.

A tax exile playwright and partner Frederick Fellowes (Jonathan Coy) and Belinda Blair (Tracy-Ann Oberman) sneak back to their house for some tax-dodging sex as Felicity Kendall’s maid Dotty Otley tries coping with sardine phone and newspaper cues. But before she vanishes and they appear a tax inspector and mistress (Joseph Millson’s Garry Lejeune, Sasha Frost’s Brooke Ashton) sneak up to pursue an affair in an empty house. Each couple’s ignorant of each other’s existence.  It’s almost bad till it get worse. That’s when Matthew Kelly’s burglar, drunken actor Selsdon Mowbray breaks in.

Cue leather-coated ambitious director Alexander Hanson’s Lloyd Dallas, who doesn’t take kindly to Garry wanting to know motivation, Frederick not understanding the sequence of events, a drunken Selsdon and once sovereign farceur Dotty missing her cues but bankrolling the production. And just who’s written this farce becomes clear in the programme-within-a programme. Lloyd’s off soon to direct a Richard III with a Richard suffering a bad back.

Not to worry, he’s moved on from Pepter Lunkuse’s Poppy Norton-Taylor’s coping ASM to young lead Brooke Ashton who’s as blind to other actors as she is without her lenses, which send the cast scurrying to look for something that’s still in her eye.

Later Lloyd sends Hubert Burton’s overworked and rather heroic ASM dogsbody Tim Allgood to buy roses for Brooke. Three times. There’s a reason. Just as there’s a reason why by the end three identically-dressed burglars break in speaking the same lines we’ve been regaled with throughout. He knows just who Brooke’s character is too. He calls her Vicki for good reason.

That’s before two sheikhs of a sheet’s tail turn up.

That’s just a taster. It’s the second act where the real mayhem reaches an apogee never before seen on stage. It means the subtlety of Act Three’s denouements are relished because of that adamantine logic that makes us appreciate how we got there and what on earth will happen.

Act Two’s conclusion is so delirious with a showstopping last-line an actor picks up instinctively and runs with, well you can see why one director ended it there. But – they were wrong.

Don’t get anyone started on the actual cues, missed cues, misunderstandings, offstage jealousies as Millson’s Garry, involved with Dotty, becomes pathologically jealous of first harmless Frederick who gets nosebleeds from pure stress; then everyone else. Millson’s required to hop up and down backstage stairs with tied feet, to jack-knife out and crash to the ground and wield an axe. He deserves special praise over and above his trigger-persona, aided by Movement and Fight Director  Ruth Cooper-Brown.

The detonation of the farce isn’t the same as we might be used to with sets collapsing but it’ even more devastating. Higlett’s set is a joy of clarity and period blandness upstaged by itself when viewed from backstage in the second act. Paul Pyant’s lighting enjoys some tenebrous moments in that second act ad it’s where sound designer Gregory Clarke can leave mainstream sound and create oblique and foghorn-sounding noises off with a vengeance. Will Stuart’s music for the Nothing On farce is as maddeningly cod-classical as Fawlty Towers.

Kendal as ever tailors a beautifully deft, daft performance. Coy is winsomely harmless, away from his often-shady characters in Ayckbourn, for instance. Oberman seems the one sane person in the room, coping, improvising (even more than Millson) so when she windmills an arm you know there’s trouble. Hanson’s director is so bespoke 1980s you want to bottle him, in one of Matthew Kelly’s magnificent unhinged moments secreting bottles everywhere. Burton’s appealing as coping, can-do Tim, gamely doing all that’s asked of him till the mechanism elsewhere breaks. Lunkuse’s Poppy fuses hurt with anxious professionalism: it was a pleasure watching her unravel. Frost pinpoints the narcissistic young starlet Brooke stamping status with her foot, taking care there’s no lens underneath.

This is a sovereign revival. An outstanding must-see, even for those who might have seen Noises Off more than once before. Hear this one.