Michael Frayn’s Noises Off premiered in 1982. It went through three casts and played over 1,000 performances. It has been often revived world-wide ever since.
It’s about the hazards facing a company of actors touring the provinces in a sex farce called Nothing On. The first act has the actors going through a faulty technical rehearsal. The second act takes place backstage during a matinee and the chaos is played almost entirely in mime. The third act takes place much later during the run when everything is going wrong not only with their performances but also with their private lives and affairs.
Noises Off is one of the best farces of the 20th century, a modern classic, up there with Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy (long overdue for revival) and the very best farces of Georges Feydeau, Arthur Wing Pinero, Ben Travers and Ray Cooney.
The present production, directed by Lindsay Posner, is funny but not as funny as some previous productions. Some castings, from an age point of view, do not feel right.
Felicity Kendal plays a popular actress, past her best, playing a comic charwoman badly. Alexander Hanson is the sarcastic director who gets two members of the company pregnant. Jonathon Coy repeats his role of a not very bright actor who holds up the rehearsal with nose-bleeds. James Fleet is the boozy, deaf, old pro, who invariably misses his cue. Matthew Horne plays an actor who never finishes a sentence.
The hilarious second act would be even better if the jokes were more focused. So much is going on at the same time. I did not actually see Matthew Horne having the laces of his two shoes tied together by his angry lover.
The third act always was the weakest. It has now been largely rewritten. Sadly, the set no longer falls apart. The joke now is that the actors ditch the play they are doing and wildly improvise. The farce loses any reality it may have had.
Noises Off, forty years on, is still good for a laugh and one of the most amusing moments are the contradictory Tannoy announcements by the stage management as to how many minutes it will be before the curtain will rise on the second act.
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