Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Noises Off

Aberysytwyth University , , May-03-08
Noises Off by Aberysytwyth University Last Friday I went out on a warm April evening to watch a play I had never seen or read before, Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ would be the evenings entertainment, or so we thought…

I was aware that I would be seeing a play within a play that evening, suitably named ‘Nothing On’, I say suitably as it gradually unfolded that there would indeed be “nothing on”. It took a great amount of courage and strength for second time director Adam Lacey to stand face to face with his audience and explain that due to problems beyond anyone’s control the play would not be showing. For someone who must have been distraught and devastated, Lacey was every bit the professional, advising the audience that they would be welcome to take up a number of options including seeing an extra performance the following morning or even a refund (an option I am sure very few people took, and those that did should be saddened by what they missed).

A little over a year ago a second year drama student armed with a fantastic cast, an untiring production team, a mediocre budget and a big plant, directed his debut production ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ a play I was honoured to have been heavily involved in, it was in all honestly very well received, and it certainly went down well, many people enjoyed the show, many of them came twice.

That same young man later told me of a farcical play that he had ambitions to direct, he tried desperately to describe the plot “I think I will have to see it to understand it” was my response. He described a set which on a large budget in a grander theatre, would revolve revealing back stage of the play within the play “you’d never be able to do that in Morlan” was my unhelpful advice. Lacey would then go on to show me ideas and drawings of how he would have two separate audience areas and explained how during intervals he would relocate them so as to get the full benefit of the set and the “set”. Genius I declared “no, just logical” replied a satisfied Lacey. And indeed, his idea for set became reality and a very impressive one at that. The transition between “auditorium” and “back stage” works effortlessly. Truly well thought out by this young director.

On entering the auditorium you are hit by a true offence to the senses, comments like “is that tuna?”, and “no, I think someone is eating scampi nik naks” were instantly heard. The smell was indeed one from the depths of the sea, sardines. One could never imagine the sheer horror and humour sardines could cause but in this production they almost steal the show.

The play begins with a final dress rehearsal of the play “Nothing On”, moves on to a matinee performance, (this we hear as we watch the action backstage) in act two, and ends with a performance taking place almost three months after the dress rehearsal (for which we are seated front of stage again), the cast and crew endure problems like alcoholic actors, love triangles, jealous axe wielding manic performers, cacti, nose bleeds and a very sarcastic director. Although the play was very funny, and the text is clearly very clever it almost becomes too repetitive by the final act, a spectator could be forgiven for becoming bored almost. This doesn’t happen though, and this is where the magic of this production really tells.

“Noises off” was not an expensive production, the production values will not “wow” the audience, there are no fancy lighting effects, the sound is simple although both are well executed by Stacey Lee Rogers and Chris Stewart in their roles as DSM and Technical manager (who by all accounts both were tireless and unwavering in their support and assistance).

The costumes are straight forward, convincing and leave little to the imagination in parts. The set was rickety at best, though this is made to work at every opportunity, the cast and the direction given leads them to play off everything nook and cranny of this infamous and notoriously difficult set (seven entrances is hard to negotiate for anyone let alone a company who had to relearn their blocking just hours before the first show).
Although the sardines almost steal the show, they don’t. This production belongs to nine young, vibrant, talented and convincing actors. Without exception they all impress and deliver onto the audience some of the funniest and well executed comedy I have ever seen.

The all deserve to be mentioned and in order of appearance they shall be.

Stephanie Jepson is reminiscent of every “screw loose” old girl you’ve ever seen. She delivers a performance as Dotty Otley that she can be proud of for years to come. She will make you laugh and cry (with more laughter). Sublimely named, she is “dotty” down to the letter! How she remembered all the directions with sardines, telephones and newspapers I will never know. It is likely that the director of “Nothing on” Lloyd Dallas (played by Sam Richardson) barking orders at her in his delightful yet “I want to kill you my love” tone helped her remember her direction. Richardson is comical every time he is on the stage and (thanks to Lacey’s clever direction) even when he is amongst the audience.

Pete Steele keeps us amused with his “matter of fact” and very dead-pan comedy. He never plays for laughs and that’s what makes his performance of Garry so entertaining. Seeing the play was the first time I had encountered this clever text, it was also the first time I had encountered Alice Chiplin, a first year student who is very gifted and completely convincing as Brooke. It would be easy for someone to watch the play and think Lacey had cast this play too well and begin to wonder if this young lady is actually as bad at acting as her character seems to be. She is not, she is simply very talented. She switches between Brooke and Vicki so effortlessly that you begin not to notice it, and that is where the talent lies.
Amy Quesne plays an astonishingly simple and natural performance as the typical DSM Poppy. Her performance is delightfully believable and brings a lovely balance to the other “larger than life” performers in her world. She is utterly convincing as the doting (yet unappreciated) “other woman” in Lloyds life. Chris O’Donovan is a very talented young man, my first encounter of O’Donovan was in his first year when I was impressed by his ability to act on stage while holding a script and cover another actor while managing a funny and well presented performance. He has gone from strength to strength. His performance as Frederick is funny, entertaining and almost understated with subtlety, for an actor with a large physical and vocal presence he never steals focus or a scene. He lies in wait for his moment, always in character, always in the moment, when his time comes you believe he is having that nose bleed, you believe he is fed up and just wants to sit on the furniture, he should be commended for a clever, subtle and natural performance.
Kate Waterfield as Belinda was very similar to O’Donovan in her approach to the character, seemingly always waiting patiently to entertain and amuse, never appearing rattled, nervous, or unfocused. She is clearly very comfortable on the stage and looks like she has a great chance of staying there for a very long time.
For me however the show was made even more amusing by two performers. You couldn’t get two actors who are more different, more in contrast and yet more in sync with their surroundings, each other, the cast and the audience. Peter McGrath and Paddy Cooper kept me (and most of the audience) in hysterics from start to finish. They provide some of the funniest moments of the entire play. Paddy (renowned for his intellect, his thorough analysis of everything theatre and his sophisticated sense of humour) proves himself to be a fine comical actor yet again. This was actually the first time I had seen Paddy perform and he lived up to my expectations and more. He was never for a moment Paddy Cooper, he WAS Selsdon Mowbray, he was never the twenty-something academic, he was this ancient, alcoholic thespian. Peter McGrath (as stated) is much the contrast of Cooper and yet gave as solid a performance as the always fatigued Tim Allgood (stage hand, asm, general dogsbody) and again provided more laughter than should be allowed. He too must be very proud of his work. Indeed, this whole company must be proud of their hard work. The action never ceases to flow, you never become bored or confused, you never doubt the performers, and Adam Lacey must feel an enormous sense of pride at having pulled off a tremendous coup while working tirelessly on two other productions. He can be proud of his consistency in direction. He chose a fantastic production team and it was quite astonishing how these few went from having “Nothing on” to pulling “Noises” off.

Reviewed by: Alan Mehdizadeh

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