by Michael Frayn.
New Wolsey Theatre To 13 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 13 March 2.30pm.
Captioned 11 March.
Post-show Discussion: 4 March.
Runs 2hr 30min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 01473 295900.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 February.
Fun with farce in lively revival.
It’s generally three acts bad, two acts better in modern playwriting. Yet the central act of two three-act comedies written ten years apart, Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular and Michael Frayn’s 1982 Noises Off are singularly hilarious.
Both have dialogue that’s less important than what we see: in Ayckbourn, repeated suicide attempts, or, here, the backstage view of a corny old farce, which we’ve already watched front-on through a dress rehearsal which trudged perilously towards opening night.
Then, complicated by shifting relationships between the cast plus director, backstage chaos feeds into the precision needed to create onstage laughter in a farcical slide of near-disasters (Peter Rowe’s Ipswich revival lets us glimpse a few apparent audience members at this midweek matinee).
It is undoubtedly the bravura section. Yet this isn’t the first production where the major laughs have been postponed to the last act, when, front-stage again, the whole edifice collapses in the tour’s final week. For Noises Off can catch out all but the most expert of casts. It demands actors who can do farce, theatre reduced to a sequence of props and dialogue rivalling each other in synthetic quality, while giving a different level of credibility to their own characters. All apparently effortlessly.
Rowe’s crew aren’t quite that good. But they’re highly accomplished and the production smoulders amusingly until it bursts into full comic flame. Rosemary Ashe looks a relic of former glamour as Dotty, who’s funded this tour of an old-fashioned farce as a final gamble on the drawing-power of her name.
Saskia Butler (herself an Ayckbourn discovery) is too intelligent to be the dumb ingenue Brooke normally appears, instead successfully presenting her as self-absorbed in a world of her own, someone at an angle to reality, while Col Farrell’s old pro Selsdon, hard of hearing as of drinking, sits happily in the theatre world right to the curtain-call.
And Charles Davies is spot-on both as farce and character actor, bringing uncertainty to his Garry in rehearsal, anger in his later jealousy and precise farcical seriousness in his ‘onstage’ acting; a pitch-perfect performance in an all-round strong production.
Dotty Otley: Rosemary Ashe.
Lloyd Dallas: Jamie Newall.
Garry Lejeune: Charles Davies.
Brooke Ashton: Saskia Butler.
Poppy Norton-Taylor: Victoria Yeates.
Frederick Fellowes: Robin Kermode.
Belinda Blair: Jemma Churchill.
Tim Allgood: Gavin Spokes.
Selsdon Mowbray: Col Farrell.
Director: Peter Rowe.
Lighting: Ben Payne.
Fight director: Philip D’Orleans.