Noises Off – Review – Leeds Grand

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Noises Off – Review

Leeds Grand Theatre, July 2013

by Sandra Callard

Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is lauded as one of the greatest British comedies ever written. It is a multi-award-winning farce and remains one of the best-loved English comedies since Frayn wrote it in 1982. It begins a run at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. The illustrious Old Vic touring company performs it.

Noises Off at LGTFarce is notoriously difficult to pull off. But here you get a riotous double bill of a play within a play. Noises Off tells the story of an incompetent touring company trying to put on a play, ‘Nothing On’, with second-rate material. The farce moves at break-neck speed as the cast stumbles its way through a disastrous dress rehearsal. Inexorably it moves towards its opening night. It is full to overflowing with double-entendres, dropping trousers and serial bed-hopping that goes with classic British farce.

Lindsay Posner directs as she keeps up the speed and momentum of the action, both physical and verbal. Soon the audience is dizzy with the effort to keep up. Posner also has a cracking cast. The director of ‘Nothing On’ (now pay attention or you will lose me), is wonderfully played with great sardonic wit by Neil Pearson.

“Trousers round his ankles”

His gargantuan efforts to distil some discipline and professionalism into his cast is doomed from the word go. But he soldiers on heroically in the face of looming disaster. Maureen Beattie in the role of soap star Dotty Otley (playing Mrs Clackett in ‘Nothing On’) blasts her way through the role like an Olympic athlete. Indeed, the cast needs the stamina of a war horse as their frenetic blunderings and hapless attempts to achieve a passable first night are complicated by their chaotic personal lives.

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The entire cast are excellent. They deliver the play with the frantic, almost pantomime, gesticulations and speech which is the hallmark of farce. The second act turns the set around . We are backstage with the cast in panic as everything that can possibly go wrong, does.

To watch David Bark-Jones playing Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain (got it?), galloping upstairs with his shoe laces maliciously tied together, and not tripping up, is joyous. Old luvvie Frederick Fellowes, played sympathetically by Chris Larkin, manages the same trick but this time with his trousers round his ankles.

“Uncontrollable laughter”

The third act reverts back to front of stage on the closing night of the show. The whole cast is fed up, worn out, injured and mindless of the disasters they are inflicting on the audience. They do perk up alarmingly and gleefully when Neil Pearson’s exhausted director Lloyd Dallas is proven to have feet of clay.

Farce is a taste that needs acquiring. I have not seen one for many years. Initially I am put off by the end-of-the pier-like presentation. But by Act Two I have begun to settle down. I see that Frayn has produced a cleverly constructed play of almost mathematical proportions. Each movement, accident, blunder and fall is exquisitely choreographed. Yet it manages to look wonderfully shambolic. It was a full house at the Grand for the first night. The uncontrollable laughter from the audience bears testament to the enduring quality of this most British of farces.

images Johan Persson

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