Michael Frayn's classic backstage comedy returns... and seems to never leave.
Nicki Wendt and Louise Siversen in Noises Off. Photo by Stephen Henry.
Dropped pants, broken doorknobs, lost contact lenses and an old alcoholic thespian. These are just a few of the problems plaguing the touring production of the fictional sex comedy ‘Nothing On’ in Michael Frayn’s bawdy backstage farce Noises Off. Since its original incarnation in the early 1980’s this incredibly popular play has regularly been produced all over the world and most recently played to Australian audiences in a Sydney Theatre Company production in 2014. This latest revival is a co-production between Queensland Theatre (QT) and Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) with direction by QT’s Artistic Director Sam Strong.
In the first act we see the cast struggle through a catastrophic technical rehearsal the night before the show is set to open. Little clues about personal issues and romantic entanglements among the cast and crew begin to emerge, and as the stage revolves to reveal the backstage world behind the proscenium facade these problems are fully revealed to the audience in Act Two. We watch as the drama onstage begins to pale in comparison to the drama offstage. The third act captures the final performance of the tour as the cast and the show inevitably fall apart.
First things first; the entire ensemble in this production is fabulous and their execution of the physically demanding and incredibly intricate slapstick comedy is remarkable. Noises Off is the definition of structured chaos and it only takes one tiny blunder to unravel the whole thing. That the cast got through the opening night performance without a hiccup is a small miracle in and of itself.
Louise Siversen is particularly hilarious as Dotty Otley/Mrs Clackett. Her diverse accent work and rubbery physicality is consistently entertaining. As the mistreated assistant stage manager, Emily Goddard brings an unkempt and slightly tragic quality to the role of Poppy. There are shades of Saffie from Absolutely Fabulous in Goddard’s assured performance and seeing her character gain confidence brings some much needed warmth to the production. Simon Burke is perfectly cast as the smarmy and philandering director Lloyd Dallas and Nicki Wendt is clearly relishing her role as the glamourous, applause-loving Belinda Blair.
Director Stone, in collaboration with movement director Nigel Poulton, has created a dizzyingly fast paced and explosively riotous production. At least at the start. As the play progresses the repeated jokes become less and less funny and the staging of some of the action during the backstage sequence in Act Two is stiff and too obviously choreographed; the chaos doesn’t seem dangerous or real. Perhaps the cast will settle into the dimensions of the stage for the Melbourne run but on opening night it mostly seemed awkward. By the time the third act rolls around and we are seeing the same scenes over and over again it becomes tiresome and really tries the patience of the audience. Why the play doesn’t end at the end of Act Two is perplexing, but as it stands Noises Off is simply too long; watching it until its conclusion becomes incredibly laborious.
There is no denying that the cast is working hard and that the play is often funny, but there are only so many times a pair of pants falling down can elicit laughter before you just want to run on stage and pull them up yourself so we can all go home.
2 stars out of 5
Noises Off by Michael Frayn
Directed by Sam Strong
Featuring Simon Burke, Ray Chong Nee, Emily Goddard, Libby Munro, Hugh Parker, James Saunders, Louise Siversen, Steven Tandy and Nicki Wendt
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
8 July – 12 August 2017
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level