You would be forgiven for thinking that the late John Chapman's theatrical frolic Kindly Leave the Stage predated Michael Frayn's Noises Off. It has a sort of innocence about it as the audience oh-so-slowly discovers that the door-slamming, set-shaking, prompt-inducing shenanigans which it is watching with amusement aren't the result of incompetence. Rather, it's a play about actors playing in a play.
Confused? You're meant to be.
This was the first play which Baroque Theatre staged three years ago and director Adam Morley keeps the fun bubbling over, though the second half does tend to sag a little. The play within a play has two couples – Madge and Charles, Sarah and Rupert. As we discover, in real life their relationship is much more complicated.
Matters aren't helped by an over-worked stage manager, the middle-aged actress who has really had enough of playing other people's mothers, a stage-struck St John's Ambulance volunteer and an elderly actor well past his prime even before he hit the bottle. Tempers fray, people get stamped upon, one character finds himself confined to a trunk... you can guess the rest.
Simon Michael Morgan goes to town as Rupert, the master of unleashed histrionics ("I never over-act!"). Katie Charles matches him as Sarah with Claire Bibby's Madge, David Blood's Charles and Patricia Derrick as Mrs Cullen (she of the jade-green knitting) in full support. Natasha Walsh is very funny as the harassed stage manager Angela as is Jill Davy dispensing unnecessary medical assistance whenever it seems warranted.
Then there's David Shackleton as Edward, reprising his Lear ad infinitum, not to say ad nauseam. A judicious dash of the Sindens as well as the Wolfits and Oliviers here as he stumbles over the furniture and the other players to amusing effect. Drunk scenes are difficult to pull off effectively, but Shackleton manages it.