Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is a masterpiece of exquisitely imagined and expertly crafted comedy. Its first act is set during the technical rehearsal of a dreadfully written and poorly produced farce; its second, back stage during a middle of tour performance; and its third seen from the perspective of the audience on the final disastrous night: this is backstage comedy at its best.
The play is achingly funny, eliciting a level of laughter more common to stand-up comedy than theatre, but a number of factors elevate Frayn’s writing above the level of most farces. His characters are rich and clearly drawn, not to mention fully inhabited by Lindsay Posner’s exceptional cast. Everyone pulls their weight in this respect, but there are particularly memorable performances from Neil Pearson, as the play’s world-weary director; Sasha Waddell, as the one capable cast member desperately trying to hold everything together; and David Bark-Jones, whose elastic physicality achieves many of the evening’s biggest laughs.
But it is the nature of the whole ensemble that is so impressive. If every entrance and exit wasn’t so carefully timed, every member of the company such a well oiled cog in this intricate machine, the production could slip so easily into the chaos it apes. Yet, somehow, this talented company makes their own hard work look as effortless as the play-within-the-play is torturous.
Noises Off runs at the Lyceum, Sheffield until 18 May. For further information visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk