Noises Off (Southwold and Aldeburgh)

Watching actors playing actors – and thereby making fools of themselves twice over – must be one of live theatre’s most visceral pleasures.

Noises Off is one of Michael Frayn's most popular comedies, and deservedly so. From the moment we first find ourselves watching the chaotic technical-cum-dress rehearsal of one of those appalling farces most theatre-goers wince at just the once and avoid thereafter through its tour, it's a laugh per second.

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What it requires, other than a cast with split-second timing, is ensemble playing. That's probably why all the best productions I have seen tend to be those which use a group of actors accustomed to working with and off each other in a company. Phil Clark's production scores highly.

Neither the Southwold nor Aldeburgh stages are large. Se designer Maurice Rubens and scenic engineer Alan Horne together perform a small miracle in showing us the set of Nothing On (the play which Dotty Otley is financing in the vain hope that it will fund her retirement) both front and backstage.

Amid the doors which won't open, the scenery which shakes, confusion about props, lost contact lens with enough backstage shenanigans and emotional dramas to ignite a whole fireworks display, we catch our collective breath waiting for the next pratfall or other histrionic mishap. If it wasn't all so funny, you'd be put off commercial touring productions for life.

Eliza McClelland is hilarious as the former television soap-star taking a chance. Then there's Jamie Chapman as the hapless Frederick, deep in a matrimonial turmoil and subject to inopportune nosebleeds. Iain Ridley plays Garry, who it turns out has a very short temper. Director of this farrago is Lloyd (Michael Shaw), a man who would be much happier staging Richard III.

Pity the poor stage managers who don't meausre up to his demands. Kate Middleton is Poppy, the novice who finds herself out of her depth in more ways than one, and Peter Hoggart makes you sympathise with Tim. Eye candy Brooke, she of the come-get-me poses, is a peach of a part for Rosanna Miles. Imogen Slaughter makes much of the seen-it-all before-darling Belinda.

Many of the efforts of the play-within-a-play cast are concentrated on keeping washed-out Selsdon (Simon Snashall) out of the company of a bottle – any bottle with alcohol in it – and in through the French windows at the right time for his burglar cameo. Can they do it? Well, what do you think!

Noises Off runs at the Summer Theatre, Southwold until 16 August and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh 19 to 23 August.