Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Noises Off

touring production , New Theatre Cardiff , October 23, 2008
Noises Off by touring production With a reputation as the ‘funniest play ever written’ Michael Frayn’s legendary comedy Noises Off certainly has a lot to live up to. Well received when first produced in 1982 – winning both the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for best comedy, the question now, as it sales through its 26th year is can it still bring in the laughs?

A play in three acts which is fundamentally a play within a play about a (terrible) play, Noises Off hammers through the fourth wall allowing its audience a chance to see how it can all go so terribly wrong; and what satisfaction we get from seeing tempers fray, emotions soar and characters crumble.

In true farcical fashion the rickety set is dominated by flapping doors and other physical obstacles which of course allow the bumbling characters to trip, fall and tumble their way through the production, Ben Hull in particular bounced his way around like a bull in a china shop.

Whilst Frayn’s script is undoubtedly built on wit and observational intelligence, performed with anything but excellence it would be a disaster. Luckily for me, and the hundreds of other eager audience members, the National Theatre Company’s current cast excelled, working together seamlessly to portray disorder with total directive control. This extraordinary ensemble displays all the professional qualities that their characters in the play are devoid of – carrying us through the mayhem like a well-oiled machine.

Maggie Stead is brilliant as the eccentric and distracted Dotty whilst Colin Baker’s portrayal of the blissfully unconscious Selsdon is delightful in its simplicity. Of course the luxury of farcical performance is often that mistakes can go unnoticed, but with a cast as polished and professional as this, blunders are left solely to their fictional characters.

So is this the funniest play ever written? The reaction from the audience as the curtain fell (literally) would suggest it’s certainly in the running. However, one clear observation determined by both my own reaction and that of the younger audience members around me was that the farcical genre may not convincingly translate into the age of contemporary theatre. Maybe we don’t have the stamina to laugh for 3 hours, or maybe we’re harder to please? Whatever the reason it mustn’t distract from the undeniable conclusion that this production is a perfect way to spend an autumn evening.

Reviewed by: Amy Stackhouse

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