Picture the scene, it's a Tuesday evening at the Novello Theatre just off the Strand and I am sat between Ronnie Corbett and Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock). Dotted around us are the American from Downton, a man from War Horse, Patricia Routledge and Olivia Coleman. It could not have turned out better. My stellar seating chums aside, Noises Off was the reason I was there, a new revival of the Micheal Fryan farce which sees a slowly crumbling tour of the play 'Nothing On'. We see the dress rehearsal of Act 1, a performance of Act 1 (but from the view of backstage) and the final night's performance of Act 1 from the audience's perspective again. Each time falling apart more than the last as affairs, secret relationships, drinking problems and egos get in the way.
I can honestly say I have never laughed so much in the theatre, probably more so than in One Man Two Guvnors which was hilarious. Far from being repetitive, jokes which had you in fits of laughter the first time have you laughing at them again the second and third time all for different reasons as new situations come to light and more complications surface. It is certainly of the same comedic vale as Acorn Antiques with people going to answer the phone before they ring, coming on at the wrong time and props being lost. Celia Imrie as the actress Dotty and her character Mrs.Cracket has already been nominated for Best Actress at the Olivier Awards, and rightly so. Her performances as both are pitch perfect and have the audience roaring with laughter at everything she said.
Like the best comedy, Noises Off does not have a single weak member of the cast which allows the overall performance to have that precision which allows farce to look loose and all over the place whilst in actual fact being very precise and immaculate. The middle section of the play sees everyone arguing in hushed tones backstage as the play is being performed on the other side of the scenery and is a masterclass in physical humour. Predominantly the only dialogue heard are the lines of Act 1 of 'Nothing On' being performed behind the scenery and yet it sounded like people were on the verge of doing themselves physical harm, such was the volume of their laughter.
Whilst the actors were meant to be doing a performance on the 'stage', 'backstage' they are arguing trying to kill each other and frantically running around and getting confused, whilst at all times making it to their correct entry point to perform on the other side of the scenery. Evidently the result of weeks of tireless rehearsal, the timing of what seemed like chaos was spot on. Its easy to slip into the mind-frame that in the context of a play which is falling apart, it would be easy to forget one's line or miss an entry or forget a prop when in actual fact it is quite the opposite. One of the most astonishing parts of this play, and this current production, is the way in which you wholly buy into what is going on - there is a reassuring feeling of being in good, safe and hilarious hands. But by no means take just my word for it. Ronnie Corbett (my new best friend), who saw the original production thought it was brilliant, as did Patricia Routledge, who was in the original production in 1982. One of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in London and one of the only ones where I have made my mouth physically hurt from laughing - one more joke and I would have drawn blood!
Noises Off is playing at the Novello Theatre until the 30th June. For tickets go to www.oldvictheatre.com
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