“It’s not the usual kind of show we have on here,” the Royal Court gang explained with a little trepidation on press night, but early reports were the audiences had been getting into Noises Off so far. With farce, innuendo, slapstick and visual gags by the bucketload, it turned out to be a show that not only looked great under the theatre’s proscenium arch but delivered a complex, modern classic comedy with style while fitting nicely alongside the venue’s more Scouse-tastic repertoire.
A play about a play gone horribly wrong, in three acts Noises Off covers three bases: The technical rehearsal the night before the touring production of ‘Nothing On’ begins; the kerfuffle backstage during the opening night – largely in silence as the show goes on behind; and finally, the desperation of the woeful final performance from a frazzled cast.
Taking top billing is a lady who knows a thing or two about 80s farce – Kim Hartman, aka Helga from ‘Allo ‘Allo. And she proves a rock in this production as Dotty Otley, trying her best to make the most out of her role as sardine-loving housekeeper Mrs Clackett. Former Corrie star Tupele Dorgu is great as nosey Belinda Blair, switching between a Mel B-style brassy friendliness and her lady-of-the-manor character Flavia Brent.
Among a talented cast, it is the Royal Court’s two home town boys who really stand out – Stephen Fletcher, as pompous actor Gary Lejeune, and Danny O’Brien as understudy and general dogsbody Tim Allgood. The Court’s rotating set makes an impression too, switching from back to front of stage thanks to Richard Foxton’s nifty design.
The guffaws from the actors in the audience on press night went to show writer Michael Frayn had been on to something, especially during the first act as the actors rehearse the play. But as madness descended and the impeccably-timed ballet of stage exits, whisky smuggling, dirty tricks and misunderstandings began, it was clear this was a show that simply serves to entertain.
Mindbogglingly clever, well executed and wildly funny, perhaps Royal Court chief exec Kevin Fearon says it best in the programme: “The key to this show is scripted mistakes – anyone can make theatre look good, but it takes huge amounts of work and talent to make it look this bad.”