Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews


The Wardens , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May 2, 2014
NOISES OFF by The Wardens I return to my beloved Aberystwyth quite frequently – usually with some kind of theatrical excuse.

This time, it was “Noises Off” – a show which I myself had appeared in at the Morlan Centre just months before I left town in 2008, and which nearly killed me, both with the physicality of the role and the hilarity of the play itself. Fast forward six years, and Aberystwyth’s own Mr Showbiz, Richard Cheshire, has, with his doughty company of Wardens, brought into being this most theatrical of farces, and done so with exceptional aplomb.

For those unfamiliar with the play, “Noises Off” tells the story of “Nothing On”, which is a touring farce produced by a theatre company whose own lives have become rather farcical. In the original programme notes in the text, you are informed that there will be an interval between Act One and Act One, and another between Act One and Act One – that is because each act of “Noises Off” shows the performance of Act One of “Nothing On” at different points on the tour, because, of course, the “Noises Off” cast is actually playing and directing “Nothing On” for some weeks at a time, while the farce onstage filters into the lives backstage. There are nine actors, eight doors, four plates of sardines, two sheiks, one prominent set of underwear, a panoply of burglars and a very troublesome pair of trousers.

Keeping up? I do hope so, though you have an easier job than the cast, who have to get through a farce-within-a-farce every night at breakneck speed in a show where chaos has to be rehearsed thoroughly otherwise it becomes very dangerous indeed.

This is a thoroughly delectable bon-bon of a show which causes one to laugh in new and raucous ways as the outstanding performers rattle through the debris of their lives, onstage and off. Though the first part of the play (which establishes the characters’ private and public lives through the final technical rehearsal of their play) can feel a little slow, it bears perseverance, because when we reach part two, which is all shown from the perspective of what goes on backstage, you are treated to a near-silent piece of riproaring physical comedy as secrets emerge, lives fall apart and the show simply must go on…. And on…. And on… so that by act three – well… it’s all gone a little Pete Tong.

Holding this ragtag company together is director Lloyd Dallas, played with voice-of-God boominess by David Blumfield, who made the transition from his desk in the stalls to the onstage-backstage dramas seamlessly and with a lot of jaded wit.

His crew were completed by much put-upon stage manager Poppy - portrayed by Theresa Jones with a certain pathos but just as much wide-eyed charm and an underlying mordant wit that had me crying with laughter more than once – and Tim, the stage manager who hasn’t slept in days, whom Rob O’Malley imbued with enormous charm.

Lloyd’s cast is ostensibly led by old stagers Dotty Otley (Lynne Baker in waspish good form with impeccable comic timing) and Selsdon Mowbray (Ioan Guile injecting a mixture of bumbly humour and whisky into the alcoholic veteran). He also has to contend with bluff, well-meaning but ultimately pretty dim and flimsy-willed Freddie, played by Jim Vale, who is often better known for his scenic design work with the Wardens and other local companies, but who exposed himself (regularly) as a very gifted comic and physical actor.

Along with Freddie, we have Belinda – Julie McNicholls giving an almost Penelope Keith-like feel to this mistress of the arch comment and the last-minute ad-lib, sending us all rolling into the aisles with her shrieking laugh.

Finally we have Garry – a fiery younger star played with hysterically-funny frustration and acrobatic skill by Marcus Dobson – and ditzy, loveable nymphette Brooke, given real edge and depth by Natalie Redman.

I felt I had to have a quick prance through the full cast list because this is the ultimate ensemble production. Everyone, on-stage and off (and credit must be given to the backstage team for dismantling and rebuilding what is a pretty sizeable set twice during every performance), has to pull together and make the chaos work.

Luckily for us as an audience, they pull it off flawlessly, and the result is one of the funniest things I have seen in years, and believe me, I see some funny stuff on a daily basis just walking down the street in London.

At the time of writing, there are two performances left (one on Friday, and one on Saturday). I suggest you put on your finest begging, borrowing and stealing attire and go out in search of a ticket – you’ll regret it if you don’t, not just because you are missing the most hilarious show in the West at the moment, but also because you will miss out on seeing the smoothest, shapeliest, most alabaster legs in Ceredigion – and they’re not even on one of the female cast!

A hearty bravo to all involved.

Reviewed by: Paddy Cooper

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