Since its premiere in 1982, Noises Off has enjoyed major success with audiences and critics alike. The show has been produced by some the country's leading performance spaces, including London’s National Theatre. A play within a play, the narrative follows the production of Nothing On as the real life drama unfolds during the closed doors of rehearsal, then later following the backstage antics during a performance.
Both Shuttleworth and Carey have immediate connections with Birmingham and the REP’s producing work, with Shuttleworth having studied at Birmingham University and Carey partaking in many other of the company's performances including Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz.
The production opens on Tuesday 18th May; we join the cast members during their final stages of technical rehearsal.
For those reading this article that do not know an awful lot about ‘Noises Off’, how would you describe it?
Louise: In act one of Noises Off the audience see the dress rehearsal of a traditional bedroom farce called Nothing On. The actors are still fluffing their lines, struggling with the props and generally trying the director’s patience. In act two you see the show on tour. The actors step out of the on-stage farce into another farce that develops backstage as the company fight valiantly to ‘keep the old bus on the road...’
Gerard: It’s a farce within a farce. A comedy that reflects what could happen backstage under the most unfortunate circumstances.
With the play being set in a theatrical environment how much have you been able to draw from your own personal experience with the rehearsal process?
Louise: In Noises Off, Michael Frayn is mocking the way actors negotiate each other’s egos. In rehearsals we’ve found that it’s impossible to ask a question about ‘motivation’ to point out a mistake to a colleague, or even to give someone a compliment without sounding like a character from the play.
Gerard: As actors we work quite closely with stage management so it’s a case of remembering what manner they adopt their duties with and try to convey it to an audience.
Do you see the play to be a true reflection of being part of a production and its rehearsal despite its farcical happenings?
Louise: Very much so! Being on tour is like being on Big Brother – you live, work and socialise with the same small group of people and relationships can get strained and ‘complicated’!
Gerard: Absolutely – throughout rehearsals the whole cast kept pointing out the realism of situations. We’ve all been part of a company at some point where certain moments in the play have struck a chord and that’s certainly the approach we’ve gone for.
I understand you are both playing the roles of the stage managers, are there any parallels between your interpretations of your roles and stage mangers you have worked with in the past?
Louise: My character, Poppy, is really not cut out to be a stage manager. She lacks the intelligence and the backbone that stage mangers need to have. However she does try so I have taken inspiration from things I’ve seen stage mangers do – Poppy just doesn’t do them very well.
Gerard: I’ve never really worked with stage management as incompetent as Tim – but certainly with regards to stage fright and panic I’ve come across many whose worst nightmare would be to be thrown onstage at the last minute as an understudy.
‘Noises Off’ is now a recognisable contemporary script, what would you say is different about this production to others people may have seen in the past?
Louise: Our director, Ian Talbot, is so experienced and so good at directing comedy and he has added a lot of extra details that are not written in the script. There’s been a definite sense of fun in the rehearsal room and I’m sure the audience will pick up on that.
Gerard: I’ve not personally seen any past productions, but with ours, we’ve tried to find the comedy in playing the complete truth of the situations with believable characters.
Both of you have connections with the city of Birmingham; what drew you to the REP and this production in particular?
Louise: I saw lots of productions at The REP during my time as a student at Birmingham University. I was over the moon to be offered the chance to perform at the theatre and also delighted to spend some time in Birmingham again (I’m particularly enjoying the new Bullring!). As for the play, Noises Off is such a classic farce and I’ve always wanted to do it.
Gerard: I’ve always wanted to do a farce; I love comedy and indeed Birmingham. This will be my fifth production at The REP – I just love working here.
Noises Off plays at Birmingham REP until Sat 5th June 2010.
Interview by Ben Wooldridge