Review - Noises Off at the Garrick Theatre
It is often said that laughter is the best medicine. In which case, Noises Off should be prescribed on the NHS. Like The Play That Goes Wrong that it clearly inspired, it is a play about the putting of a disastrous production, from its tortuous technical dress rehearsal to a messy performance midway through its run (observed from backstage) to one of its final calamitous performances.
So the big joke is the mechanisms of the theatre and the machinations of its actors as they try to get through the play, amidst the regular intrusions of their own personal relationships to each other.
It is also a metaphor for life itself. As Lloyd Dallas, the director of the malfunctioning show, tells his cast: "That's what it's all about, doors and sardines. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's - that's the theatre. That's life."
And at a time of massive chaos in our public life, as parliament plays out a daily farcical battle of its own, the play takes on another quality: it provides a welcome (and safe) escape valve of organised chaos that briefly removes us from the disorganised mess outside that we're watching nightly on the newscasts.
Plays about the theatre itself are all around us at the moment, with The Watsons (that also opened this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory) revolving around a cast of actors intervening to complete the unfinished Jane Austen novel that they are bringing to the stage.
But Noises Off is about something altogether less subtle: the monumental efforts required just to get through the play (which on the evidence of what we see of it, is a fairly ropey domestic touring sex farce). So, at another level, it's also about the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds - and therefore a living inspiration, too.
This production, directed by Jeremy Herrin (who also previously directed the play's third Broadway revival in 2015), originated at the Lyric Hammersmith earlier this summer, taking the play back to the theatre where it was originally premiered in 1982. In the years since, the play has had two earlier West End revivals, with a National Theatre revival in 2000 directed by Jeremy Sams moving to the Piccadilly, and an Old Vic production in 2011 directed by Lindsay Posner moving to the Novello.
It never fails to surprise, delight and exhilarate, no matter how many times you've seen it before (and I've seen each of those productions). Part of the pleasure is always in seeing the infectious (and resolutely hard-working) efforts of the cast to rise above the mounting panic of their situation to maintain some semblance of control. Max Jones's set, meanwhile, puts in a performance all of its own that's hilariously out-of-control.
This cast work their socks (and sometimes other clothing items) off to ensure that the laughter never stops. The company works as a hilarious, dysfunctional ensemble; there isn't a weak link in them and it's a group effort, but Daniel Rigby's physicality is in a class of its own.
The play remains a laughter-generating machine, and this production will likely prove to be a money-generating one for its producers all over again.
Noises Off tickets are available now.