Theatre in Wales

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Noises Off

The Wardens , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , May 5, 2014
Noises Off by The Wardens The theatre ecology of Aberystwyth is wholly its own. James Vale is on stage as exasperatingly pedantic Freddie for the Wardens’ rambunctious revival of Michael Frayn’s 1982 farce-on-farce. A mile down the hill he is also painter of memorable monochrome eight-foot panels that evoke Swansea and Manhattan for a Dylan Thomas production from director-designer Harry Durnall.

David Blumfield plays lordly, duplicitous director Lloyd. Inbetween times he is directing an upcoming Artaud production. In the second row sits a familiar Aberystwyth figure. Not only is he author of the review two before this one but a scroll to the bottom of the page will indicate a production held in April 2008. In that he himself was the actor playing old soak Selsdon.

History will determine whether “Noises Off” or “Copenhagen” is set to be Frayn’s most-produced play. Frayn is uniquely both philosopher and farceur and the two plays are two sides of the same coin. Both circle around pre-determination and the explosive impact of uncertainty. Frayn elaborates this in the Introduction to his “Plays: 1” which includes “Noises Off”. “The actors have fixed the world by learning roles and rehearsing their responses.” Their real lives may be in tatters- inchoate love affairs, abandonment by partners- but the fear that haunts them, writes Frayn, is that “the great dark chaos behind the set, inside the heart and the brain, will seep back on to the stage.”

Frayn briskly moves onto epistemology and paradox. The random specks that we are move within the great structure of the universe but that structure is only expressed via these same specks. In the same way the play-within-the-play “Nothing On” takes form only by Garry, Brooke, Dottie and the others being not themselves. All of which is unduly philosophical, but that is what happens when a philosopher is a master-writer of comedy and gets to write his own introduction. But the real point of wisdom is that good comedy is dead serious; it needs its dark underside.

The true brilliance of “Noises Off” is in its second act. The action is blazingly fast, all in mime, and Frayn introduces jealousy, betrayal and double-dealing, all spurred on by a whisky bottle and a bewildering quantity of bouquets. Robert O’Malley’s hard-put-upon Tim, a performance of charm and sincerity, is reduced to buying a cactus. The audience knows for sure there is going to be trouble ahead.

The strength of this production is that it is a true ensemble. Director Richard Cheshire has worked with some of his cast on many a previous production. Theresa Jones as shambling stage manager Poppy, Ioan Guile as chaos-mongerer Selsdon and Lynne Baker as Mrs Clacket- or variously Mrs Crocket, Sprocket, Bracket- are familiar and guaranteedly reliable presences. A welcome to Natalie Redman as a sprightly Brooke/Vicki- her silent Act Two mouthed “I’ll get you” has a real tasty venom to it. Julie McNicholls is arch-gossip Belinda, hiding her onstage panic beneath a veneer of beaming reassurance to the audience. The role of Garry is made for Marcus Dobson and his particular high energy, not least because he is called upon to make a flying leap into unconsciousness.

Down the hill from Aberystwyth’s main stage Vesuvius is erupting twice daily for the next week in Paul W S Anderson’s film. The paradox of film now is that anything can happen; it thrills and impresses, but rarely does it awe. When the Wardens get Aladdin onto his flying carpet small jaws drop open. “Noises Off” has a set of solidity, or at least that is its illusion, the width of the stage, eight doors. The stage does not have a revolve and the two intervals prescribed by the script are not long, Tim’s real-life counterparts Stephen Griffiths, Sonia Dobson and assistants get the whole thing turned about. I don’t know how it’s done, and I don’t want to, because it’s theatre.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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