Not every farce, even the classic ones of British theatre, stand up to repeated viewing. Michael Frayns 1982 success Noises Off does. It’s given a spankingly energetic production by Peter Rowe in a set by Richard Foxton which swirls us from stage to back-stage and back to the stage. After the hilarious second act, the third can be a bit of a let-down; that doesn’t happen here.
Leading the cast as elderly actress Dotty Otley, determined to lead her own compny on a national tour for the last time is Rosemary Ashe. As Nothing On (the play within a play) creaks its way to utter disaster, she gives a beautifully controlled portrait of someone with her own take on fading out gracefully. Or should that be disgracefully?
Ashe is matched by Jamie Newall as the insufferable Oxbridge-educated director Lloyd Dallas, for whom this wretched provincial tour with a cast made up largely of done-it-all-before thespians is undertaken purely for mercenary motives, though he is bedding the one young woman in the group – not to mention the ASM. Newall’s timing is impeccable as the technical rehearsal turns out to be almost as chaotic as the actual performances.
Also on the verge of retirement is Selsdon Mowbray (Col Farrell). Mowbray presents three problems to his fellow players: he’s a bit doddery, he’s hard of hearing and he’s much too fond of the bottle. Farell’s character wanders on and off, missing his cues, getting in everyone’s way and gently upstaging anyone who crosses his erratic path.
As if two girls scratching each other’s eyes out over the director – Saskia Butler as eye-candy Brooke and Victoria Yeates as stage manager Poppy – weren’t enough, the second male Nothing On lead Frederick is fighting a personal disaster, a need to know his motivation for each move and a tendency to wilt at the sight of blood. All three are very good, as is Jemma Churchill as Belinda, the middle-aged actress trying her best to keep the whole show in one piece, including the cast members.
Charles Davies is Garry, nominally the male lead but hopelessly outmatched by everyone else as doors stick or refuse to stay closed and vital props dematerialise. His temper tantrums are very funny, as is the dogged resourcefulness of Gavin Spokes as company manager Tim, trying hard to satisfy too many commitments with too few resources. All in all, this is what ensemble playing is all about. It’s worth keeping in your seat for at least one of the two intervals, by the way, if only to see how a proper stage management team goes about its labours.