Noises Off

Michael Frayn’s comedy classic play within a play is gracing the Oxford Playhouse stage this week, at the end of its 40th anniversary tour.

It’s a play I first saw over 35 years ago, when friends were in an amateur production, and I babysat throughout the rehearsal period to allow them to do it. I remember well the long rehearsals, which were necessary to ensure that every cue, line, prop, set change, and move went in the right place. This is a fast paced play, that when it’s done well, looks effortless, but really isn’t! Because of such a personal link to the play, it really holds a special place in my heart.

I went to the show with my daughter, who had no prior knowledge, and because of that I have tried to approach this production completely afresh and see it as much through her eyes as my own. The giggles, and out and out laughter that came from her throughout reminded me that this play, is a comedy classic. Yes, it’s a little old fashioned in places, and certainly the type of rep theatre it represents is now out of date, but the laughter in the theatre from the packed audience is a reminder that we can all go to the theatre and just have a good laugh!

The play revolves around a touring rep production of a play ‘Nothing On’. The first act takes place at the dress rehearsal, complete with missed lines, cues, a drunken old timer, romantic misunderstandings, and of course plenty of slapstick. The first act is a scene-setter, and although there are plenty of laughs, it is the second and third acts where there are real belly laughs. Act two is seen from back stage in the wings, a few weeks into the tour, and most of the dialogue is either whispered or mimed. This act is really very clever. We, the actual audience, see what the fictional audience would not see. The final act is a few weeks later on, and we’re back to seeing increasing chaos ‘on stage’.

This wonderful cast is led by Liza Goddard and Simon Shepherd as Dottie/Mrs Clackett and director Lloyd. Liza beautifully plays Dottie, the seasoned ‘pro’, somewhat past her best. As Lloyd, Simon Shepherd displays just the right touch of ‘director on the edge of a nervous breakdown’, whilst trying to hold his cast together…but of course it doesn’t quite work as the whole thing starts collapsing around him.

Special mention should also go to Paul Bradley as alcoholic Burglar Selsdon. His was a lovely comic turn. I particularly enjoyed Lucy Robinson as stalwart luvvie Belinda/Flavia, who was trying her best to keep the show on the road, and at times making matters far worse.

Lisa Ambalavanar’s performance as Brooke also deserves mention. Her unwavering commitment to her character, amidst the chaos and mayhem, is hilarious.

The whole cast worked hard - at times incredibly hard - at playing the laughs, and still remaining true to their characters. The use of physical theatre, especially in act two and three is beautifully done. Lindsay Posner’s fast pitched direction ensured this succeeded. The use of the auditorium by Lloyd and Selsdon was also a lovely touch.

The set, designed by Simon Higlett was also extremely effective, both on and behind the stage, and you just know when you first see it, that the fire axe in the wings will feature.

One thing I would like to mention is the programme. I love that our 2024 programme also has the mock ‘Nothing On’ programme complete with character notes! That’s a lovely touch.

I can heartily recommend this comical, chaotic, crazy night at the theatre!

This show was reviewed on the 20th February 20244 at Oxford Playhouse where it runs until the 24th February 2024.  Tickets available here: Noises Off | Oxford Playhouse

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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