When I first saw Jeremy Sams' production at the National Theatre 16 months ago I said, “This is farcical comedy at its very best with some of the most incredible timing I have ever seen by a cast.” Unfortunately, after transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre and now to the Comedy with a completely new cast the quality of the production has seriously diminished.
This 1980’s hit comedy by Michael Frayn of theatrical antics and disasters is in three acts. A theatrical company are performing in a play called 'Nothing On'. In the first act we get to see them in ‘Dress Rehearsal”, then in the second act the chaos backstage as the cast argue and fall out, and finally in the third act we witness the show going completely wrong as they forget their lines, the props that don’t work and their continuing arguments spilling out onto the stage.
The play has pace, but the actors timing is a mess! This gravely affected the show because the physical antics of the actors are so important for the comedy to work rather than reliance on just the spoken word. Selina Cadell does not cut it as Dotty. She lacks the hilarious posture and facial expressions that Patricia Hodge brought to the role when I last saw it. But more serious is that the whole cast fail to gel and the timing is so far out it certainly looked ‘staged’ most of the time instead of flowing beautifully from one disaster to another.
Nevertheless, if you are seeing the show for the first time you will still get a lot of pleasure and laughs as it is truly a great comedy, even if tonight it was a mediocre performance.
(The following review is from the Royal national Theatre run!)
9th Nov 2000
Something funny is happening at the Royal National Theatre at the moment. It is Michael Frayn's 1982 comedy "Noises Off"!!! I have not laughed so much at the theatre since seeing Cliff Richard as 'Heathcliff" at the Apollo Hammersmith a few years ago (Only Joking:--)). This is farcical comedy at its very best with some of the most incredible timing I have ever seen by a cast who excel in this rollercoaster show of theatrical antics and disasters.
The story, in three acts, concerns a theatrical company who are performing in a play called 'Nothing On'. Act one is set on stage in Weston-Super-Mare on the eve of opening night. The company is rehearsing throughout the night to get everything right. The rehearsals do not go well as some of the cast members have personal problems. The director is sleeping with two of the cast, but neither one knows about the other. One cast member is an old drunk and so the rest of the company have to keep the booze from him. It is not just the casts personal problems which are messing up rehearsals. The doors will not open or close on the set! The cast cannot remember their lines! Like the director, one is left wondering if all will go well on the night? The second act is set backstage at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lynne. It is this act which is the most funny as the relationships between the cast members finally break down and all sorts of arguments and chaos occurs backstage while the show is taking place. The third act takes place on stage in Stockton-on-Tees, on the last night of the show, when all hell breaks loose as the actors have to improvise when everything that can go wrong does, and the cast desperately try to hang on to their lines, their performances and even the props.
It is the pace of Jeremy Sams directing and the incredible acting skills and energy of the company that take this farce to another comic dimension. It is so unfair to single out any particular performer, because without doubt this is team effort. However, Patricia Hodge, as 'Dotty Otley', is a scream and Peter Egan as 'Lloyd Dallas' the director, is outstanding. There is also an impressive performance from Adam Gillet ' as Garry Lejeune', who does a pretty impressive stunt in act three.
The show has received great notices from the popular press… THE INDEPENDENT says, "Jeremy Sams's splendidly cast revival in the Lyttelton is undoubtedly a joy and a riot." THE DAILY MAIL says, "The funniest play ever written about the theatre.." THE EVENING STANDARD says, "While Noises Off is too diffuse and unfocused to make great farce, it revels in farcical ingenuity and induces escapist laughter." THE GUARDIAN says, "..the laughs arrive in escalating waves and the cast perform with such hectic virtuosity…" CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRATH says, "Noises Off has now achieved classic status." He also says the play is " brilliantly written", "beautifully acted" and is "technically ingenious". THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "This is, quite simply, one of the National's biggest smash hits ever."
This show will go on a short tour in February before an expected transfer to a West End venue in April or May. This is farce at its most superlative and is not to be missed by anyone who loves this kind of theatre.
Review by Carol Verburg
12th Dec 00
Quite possibly the funniest play ever written. If you haven't seen it before, don't miss the National's zippy, hilarious production. Act 1 finds a second-rate acting troupe crumpling from exhaustion onstage during a marathon dress-and-tech rehearsal. In a few hours they are to launch their provincial tour of "Nothing On," a slapstick farce. By now the tensions among the cast are as numerous as the multiple doors the characters dash in & out of. Affairs, rivalries, & enmities keep the pace frantic, along with dropped lines, missed cues, and lost contact lenses. Act 2 literally turns the set around and takes place entirely backstage, during a performance that barely manages to proceed as the actors silently act out their loves and hates behind the scenes. That would be funny enough -- but then Act 3 caps off the mayhem by putting us in the theatre for a full performance, completely screwed up by now by the offstage plot. I've seen "Noises Off" in three or four different productions and I still laugh aloud all the way through. However, I was sorry Michael Frayn felt he had to update the script; references to contemporary celebrities and events mostly went over my head, and created, I felt, a few soft spots in the play. Still, you'll have to wait a long time for a funnier evening of theatre. And if you want to renew your hope in popular culture and modern civilization, go to "Copenhagen" as well -- the other end of the theatrical spectrum, a brilliant serious play with nary a love affair nor pratfall in sight -- and be astonished by the extraordinary range of this playwright.