by Michael Frayn.
Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 9 November 2011.
Runs 2hr 55min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 August.
Plenty to shout about, if stretching credulity a bit.
Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order (1975) ends with the contents of a pre-computerised newspaper’s cuttings-library showered over the floor – an example of the writer’s interest in order and chaos.
As a library is the place, above any, where papers should be organised, so a theatre is where everything should happen according to plan, life’s surprises being edited and rehearsed away. Especially in a farce, which depends upon precision timing.
Noises Off (1982) shows what happens when things go repeatedly wrong. Ironically, in doing this, Frayn also shows how things have to go exactly right. For any theatre company performing Noises Off must be consistently spot-on as they show their characters making mistakes.
These characters form a theatre company touring a hackneyed old farce called ‘Nothing On’. Clichés abound in its tale of doors and sardines, at the last-minute dress rehearsal, on a mid-tour midweek matinee, and at the tour’s weary end.
Disorder arises from a cocktail of emotions – desire, jealousy, anger – aggravated by alcohol, gossip and fatigue. Frayn’s super-ingenious central act shows the resulting events back-stage at a midweek matinee, the unseen ‘onstage’ show sabotaged by intrigue and loathing.
There are fine performances, some of Keswick’s crew shining especially bright – Ben Ingles, standing like a terrified statue suggesting interrupted motion when everything goes wrong; or trying to salvage a disastrous scene as his ingénue colleague sticks rigidly to a script increasingly inappropriate to events onstage.
Then there’s Peter Macqueen’s old pro Selsdon, treading with professional determination through an alcoholic haze of cues and stage business. And Matthew Vaughan as Nothing On’s frustrated and, it becomes increasingly apparent, libidinous director.
Vaughan’s best moments tend to come from among the audience as he watches the dress-rehearsal fall apart. Not so Kate Layden’s Dotty, who’s put the tour together as a final fling (though surely neither she nor Vaughan’s Dallas could have been desperate enough to employ the company as shown in Stefan Escreet’s revival). Layden creates laughter through stillness, her face registering a perplexity that counteracts her determination to carry on.
There’s something almost Beckett-like in that. But it’s very funny too.
Tim Allgood: Benjamin Askew.
Poppy Norton-Taylor: Fiona Drummond.
Garry Lejeune: Ben Ingles.
Dotty Otley: Kate Layden.
Selsdon Mowbray: Peter Macqueen.
Belinda Blair: Heather Phoenix.
Frederick Fellowes: Jack Power.
Brooke Ashton: Heather Saunders.
Lloyd Dallas: Matthew Vaughan.
Director: Stefan Escreet.
Designer: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matt Hall.
Fight director: Kate Waters.