Widely considered one of the funniest plays in the English language, Michael Frayn’s meta-farce, Noises Off, premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1982. Now it’s back at the Lyric in a new production directed by Jeremy Herrin.
Consistently funny from start to finish, Noises Off is a show within a show, a farce about a farce, with the cast playing both actors and the characters of those actors. In the first act we meet the cast of Nothing On, as they stumble through their technical and dress rehearsal before the big opening night in Weston-super-Mare. In the second act, the set rotates and we see the backstage shenanigans of a show one month into its run. The pressures of being on tour, combined with the inevitable havoc of inter-show relationships, have gotten to the cast and they struggle to keep the farce afloat. In the third and final act, perhaps the funniest, we are reunited with Nothing On, or a version of it at least, as it plays Stockton-on-Tees during its final few weeks of its run.
Frayn’s dialogue is hilariously delivered by every member of the cast. There is not a beat missed or a weak moment from any of the company; a testament not only to the talent of the performers but also to the casting directors Wendy Spon and Sam Stevenson. It is especially difficult to keep a straight face when leading man Daniel Rigby (as Garry Lejune) is speaking. Rigby’s comic timing and stamina are to be applauded as he manages to run around the stage performing various complex choreographed moves while delighting the audience with facial expressions, gestures or word stress.
It is hard not to feel for the exasperated director Lloyd Dallas (Lloyd Owen) as he finds himself dealing with a show rapidly spinning out of control and caught in the middle of a fraught love-triangle. Owen’s performance is excellent with some incredibly well-timed lines, especially in the second half. Meera Syal and Jonathan Cullen also delight the audience with their portrayal of larger-than-life lovey actors Dotty and Frederick. Debra Gillet is charming as Belinda Blair, a woman who, despite being an incredible gossip, is constantly trying to appease and calm her cast mates to keep the show together.
Noises Off is a complex mix of intricate staging, highly choreographed slapstick and witty dialogue and each of these elements is delivered superbly by Herrin so much so that it’s hard to find any criticism about the production whatsoever; Herrin has certainly done the great comedy justice.
Noises Off is playing the Lyric Hammersmith until 27 July. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.