Noises Off is Spot On with Nothing On
This nearly perfect British farce from 1982 by Michael Frayn is getting another spectacular revival at the American Airlines Theatre by Roundabout. The last time I saw Noises Off, this hysterically funny play was back in 2001 on Broadway starring Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, and Faith Prince. I don’t think I remember much about the production, other then the knowledge that if this play is handled well by a full team of theatre pros, it’s hard to ruin the fun.
The wickedly funny Noises Off
is about a desperate theatre troupe trying to put on the terrible farce, Nothing On
. Each of the three acts present the same Act One of the play set in Philip and Flavia Brent’s country house. Act One of Noises Off
shows the company on their final night of rehearsal, trying and failing to get all the lines and actions down right as the clock ticks closer and closer to opening night at the Grand Theatre, in the English town of Weston-super-Mare. It’s hysterical to watch. Andrea Martin plays the fading TV star, Dotty Otley, who’s put her fame and fortune on the line for this tour, playing the housekeeper Mrs. Clackett. The opening bit with Dotty/Mrs. Clackett is a fantastic bit of stage work, as she struggles to get it right with the phone, her sardines, her newspaper, her lines, and her exits. Then one by one, we are introduced to the cast as they bumble and flail through the rehearsal of Act One of Nothing On
. All are simply fantastic, (and I’ll get to the standout soon) but the main focus here, is not so much what’s happening, but to give us all the information we need for Act Two and Act Three. Because that is where this play really gets rolling.
Act Two of Noises Off
takes place a month later, in a different theatre (Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyne). It is, once again, Act One of Nothing On
, that we are about to see performed, but this time, we see it from backstage. Nerves and frustrations are unraveling, and the actors are at each other’s throats. One of the most brilliant concepts is that once the play has finally begun (and that takes a bit of time and a lot of laughs, to get to the moment when the curtain rises), it’s pandemonium backstage, but the only lines being said are the lines of the play within the play being performed, which we can see from behind through the windows of the set. We know what’s happening on stage (thanks to Act One), but it’s what is happening silently backstage that is fantastically hilarious. Here is where the actors shine brighter then we can imagine.
Act Three of Noises Off is the last stop on this UK tour of Nothing On
(Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees), and the backstage bickering has only increased, and is about to explode. This time, once again, we see the play from the audiences’s perspective, and it’s a disaster, in the best of all possible ways. All the actors playing these terrible actors try to keep the story going forward, ad libbing desperately, but the camaraderie has deteriorated completely and chaos is on the way.
Have I said too much? To be frank, I don’t think it really matters. I knew exactly what we were in store for, and it didn’t make me laugh one bit less. This play requires total professionalism from the acting team, and this team is perfection, making it all look so easy and seamless. All should be credited with the word, ‘spectacular’, but I must single out Megan Hilty as the dimwitted and not very talented actress, Brooke, playing the sexy blonde, Vicki. From the moment she struts (and that is putting it lightly) onto the stage during the rehearsal of Act One in Act One, she is astounding. The part is brilliantly written (it gave Katie Finneran a Best Featured Actress Tony and Drama Desk Award back in 2001) and Hilty utterly shines in the hilarious part. To say more would be criminal. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s nominated for a Tony as well.
The only complaint I have of this whole shows lies in the portrayal of love and attraction. We, the audience are informed of all these romantic escapades by the gossipy Belinda (a very funny and endearing Kate Jennings Grant), and although we don’t see much proof of this adoration or sexual chemistry, we willing accept what we are told. We do become witness to the hilarity that jealousy creates, but I can’t say I ever believed in the love or the affairs, especially the romantic entanglements of Dottie and Garry (an incredibly hilarious David Furr). I never really saw it, nor felt it.
As the director (a hilarious Campbell Scott) of the play, Nothing On tells us early on in rehearsal, this is a play about doors, boxes, bags, and sardines. Along with sheets, a dress, whiskey bottles, and an axe. It’s all in the timing, and to get it right, the actors can’t vary their movements by an inch or a millisecond. Doors opening, doors closing. Exits and entrances. Sardines. No sardines. And this cast of professionals are spot on perfect, never missing a beat or failing to get the laugh.
Noises Off By Michael Frayn; directed by Jeremy Herrin; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Christopher Cronin; music by Todd Almond; hair and wig design by Paul Huntley; comedy stunt coordinator, Lorenzo Pisoni; dialect consultant, Elizabeth Smith; production stage manager, Linda Marvel. Presented by Roundabout Theater Company.
With: Andrea Martin (Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett), Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), Tracee Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor), Daniel Davis (Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar), David Furr (Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton/Vicki), Rob McClure (Tim Allgood) and Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes/Philip Brent).