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Noises Off (tour - Cambridge, Arts Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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 Included in the programme for this tour of Michael Frayn's Noises Off is a mock-up of the programme for the ghastly production being inflicted on the worthy playgoers of, among others, Weston-super-Mare, Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockton-on-Tees. We who watch the technical-cum-dress rehearsal and two matinée performances as Nothing On and its cast disintegrate so hilariously can spare a thought for those off-stage OAPs who still have two acts of thespian mayhem to survive.

]Lindsay Posner] milks every farcial moment until its pips squeak. The play-within-a-play's director Lloyd (Neil Pearson erupts from the stalls as his cast, led by fading comedienne Dotty (Maureen Beattie) – who has ploughed her life savings into this tour, proceed to make his university-trained hackles rise to their bristliest. Ingénue Brooke (Tomasin Rand) and ASM Poppy (Danielle Flett) may share Lloyd's bed but that doesn't let them escape his wrath, let alone his sarcasm.

The rest of the cast is equally good; this is true ensemble playing, even if Pearson's character cannt help but dominate. There's oh-so-slightly camp former matinée idol Freddie (Chris Larkin) with his propensity to suffer nosebleeds at inopportune moments and jealousy-prone Garry (David Bark-Jones), who stages a spectacular staircase tumble in the last act and thoroughly deserves the applause this occasions. Sasha Waddell is Belinda, whose attempts to pour oil on troubled backstage and offstage relationships waters occasionally misfire.

A large proportion of the confusion is caused by elderly actor Selsdon, who needs to be kept away from alcohol – and, as Geoffrey Freshwater has great fun demonstrating, who has a hardened drinker's ability to sniff out a bottle even before it's uncorked. And then there's the over-worked company and stage manager Tim (Simon Bubb) who's short of sleep among other woes, the all-purpose dog'sbody to perfection. All in all, you can see why this Old Vic touring production is such a success with its audiences. Frayn's play works as well now, with the right cast and direction, as it did 30 years ago.


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