Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

One of the funniest plays you’ll see...

Noises Off

Torch Theatre company , Torch Theatre, Milford Haven , October-25-06
Noises Off by Torch Theatre company This review first appeared in the Western Mail...


My journey to the wilds of West Wales has left me with a new complaint: sore knees.

No, not praying for the rain to stop but the result of the woman in front literally rocking with laughter so much her seat regularly crushed my knee-caps. Which is, I guess, as good a recommendation for a comedy as you can get.

Michael Frayn’s hugely clever play is, of course, just the thing that is made for the talents of Torch director Peter Doran: as someone who was in it not long after it first opened twenty-odd years ago, Doran appreciates the rewards from getting a highly complex farce just right.

That means everything from casting to timing and in the nine-strong cast on stage at the Torch there is not a weak link – and how good to see, yet again in Milford, some graduates of the Welsh College returning to Wales after their careers have taken off (Gareth Pierce and the gorgeous Vivienne Rowdon and Emily Bowker, more evidence of Doran’s eye for classy and beautiful young female actors).

The unwary may be confused by this production – deliberately. The Torch programme, once opened, seems to be for something called Nothing On by one Robin Housemonger at the Grand Theatre Weston-Super-Mare in, from the music (Bing Crosby) , albeit not the costumes or props, the 1940s, in spirit at least.

And for several minutes we do indeed think we are watching a typical old-fashioned farce, with scantily-clad girl, malapropism-prone char, bungling burglar and, in this case, a recurring plate of sardines – until we hear the director intervening and realise we are watching the dress-cum-technical rehearsal of the opening night of a new play by a touring company.

In fact Noises Off takes us through the first act of Nothing On (the titles both spell, you will have noticed, NO !); it then takes us through the same first act a few weeks later – but from the view backstage, where we see the intrigues and tensions all enacted in mime and whispers, and then finally a third time at the end of the run by when all is total chaos.

It is very, very funny, especially that second act which is absolutely manic and where my crushed knees suffered so much I would have cried with pain if wasn’t weeping with laughter.

I am unreliably informed that there are ten trips up or down stairs, 17 false entrances, 22 double entrendres, 46 miscues, and 76 flubbed lines – not mention innumerable door incidents, various trousers round ankles, up-bum moments and even a mistaken case of simulated fellatio.

That’s a lot of business to get a lot of entertainment and I imagine any director has to spend some time with the script sorting out the logistics – but just to make people laugh ?

Frayn, we know, is more than a farceur. He is a very bright, well-educated, posh playwright up there with the likes of Alan Ayckbourn, Christopher Hampton and Tom Stoppard, part of an erudite and clever set of dramatists who display their intellects along with their playwrighting skills – and Frayne’s more recent work revolves around far more cerebral matters than sardines and panties.

So is Noises Off anything more than one of the funniest plays you’ll see ? Maybe you could assume that that what he’s saying is that if you think life is a farce seen from the outside, go behind the scenes and it’s a chaotic tragedy. Maybe he wants us to delight in the almost mathematical logistics of the technicalities.

Or maybe he just wants to make us laugh and ruin kneecaps. If so then he has a perfect aider and abetter in Mr Doran and his talented company.

Reviewed by: David Adams

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