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Review Round-up: Noises Off Are All Positive for Old Vic

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The Old Vic's revival of Noises Off opened last night (13 December, previews from 3 December 2011) to critical acclaim.

Michael Frayn's multi-award winning 1982 comedy has a cast which includes Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Aisling Loftus, Jonathan Coy, Robert Glenister, Paul Ready, Karl Johnson, Jamie Glover and Amy Nuttall.

Lindsay Posner's revival is the first major London outing for the popular play since Jeremy Sams’ 2000 production at the National Theatre. That production enjoyed two West End stints, first at the Comedy Theatre and then at the Piccadilly following a UK tour. Noises Off was first produced at the West End's Savoy Theatre in 1982, winning an Olivier for Best Comedy and running for five years.

The farce's backstage imbroglio follows a touring company who mount a chaotic production of the trouser-dropping Nothing On. Amongst all the confusion, frayed tempers, broken hearts and off-stage explosions, can the show go on?

There are critical comparisons drawn with Richard Bean's acclaimed farce One Man, Two Guvnors, which the National Theatre recently transferred into the Adelphi Theatre following a UK tour, as well as Graham Linehan's The Ladykillers which opened at the Gielgud last week. The Old Vic's all-star revival of Noises Off continues until 25 February 2012.

Matt Trueman

"Nothing can derail Michael Frayn’s masterclass in farce … Frayn’s masterstroke is to make his set-up a farce in its own right … First it frays. Then it implodes. Ironically, the only course of action is to stick firmly to the script. Posner does just that and concocts some superlative sequences: Jamie Glover’s Garry Lejeune waddling about with his laces tied together, Amy Nuttall’s ditsy actress on autopilot falling out-of-sync with actual events, Jonathan Coy’s incessant nosebleeds at any glimpse of violence … Noises Off remains one of the seven wonders of post-war theatre … Celia Imrie disintegrates delightfully as the show grinds on … Janie Dee makes a perfect head-girl as Belinda Blair … Paul Ready is hilariously hapless as stage manager Tim … Most noteworthy… is Robert Glenister’s director Lloyd Dallas … As much a masterpiece as the Mona Lisa, Noises Off is one of the very few plays you must see before you die."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"In Lindsay Posner's deftly engineered revival, Michael Frayn's play feels fresh, witty and polished … We savour the travails of amorous director Lloyd (Robert Glenister), who is juggling two lovers and also two productions … Around him is satisfyingly precise work. There is Celia Imrie as the inept star, Jamie Glover as a lofty leading man and Amy Nuttall as a dim-witted pin-up who spends most of the time in her scanties. Jonathan Coy plays an insecure actor, Janie Dee is an elegant gossip and Karl Johnson as a deaf veteran who is always on the lookout for a dram of whisky … The production does justice to the writing's technical intricacy. It is entertaining and painful - a summation of all that farce can do."

Michael Billington

"In his portrait of a slowly disintegrating stage production, Frayn reminds us that beneath the order we seek to impose on our own daily lives lurks a terrifying abyss … If we continue to roar with laughter, not least during the farce's final collapse, it is for several reasons … It is because disaster achieves its own unstoppable momentum. But, deep down, it is also because Frayn taps into our simultaneous delight in, and fear of, panic, disorder and chaos … Celia Imrie lends the sardine-saturated housekeeper a nice hint of demonic lust. Jonathan Coy as a nervous fusspot displays a brow permanently and hilariously furrowed. Karl Johnson as an unreliable toper drifts through the action in a befuddled haze. And both Janie Dee as a supposedly warm-hearted gossip and Robert Glenister as the god-like director clearly draw on a lifetime's observation … All one can say is that, with this and One Man, Two Guvnors running simultaneously, London boasts two of the funniest plays you could ever hope to see and echoes with the sound of laughter."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Here is a good cast, tightly drilled, working on a five-star set in front of a crowd eager for the thing to be a success … Director Lindsay Posner has done superb work here, without doubt. The play tells the story of a touring theatre company playing a farce … We learn of the players’ loves, lusts and hatreds … Posner is skilfully served by the likes of Robert Glenister (as an exasperated director), Janie Dee (the company darling) and Celia Imrie, who plays the grande dame and ends the night hobbling on one foot … Aisling Loftus and Amy Nuttall provide the lust-interest for Mr Glenister’s groper. Karl Johnson is delicious as a deaf old drunk. It really is all terribly well done … The play is, at its core, an in-joke for theatre professionals. The characters will be more familiar to actors than to civilians, if we can put it like that. That is my only quibble. Otherwise, good stuff."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Every few seconds I remember some incident from his inspired farce about a farce and start laughing uncontrollably all over again … Theatrical comic bliss seemed to have reached its apogee this year with the National’s brilliant One Man, Two Guvnors. But Frayn’s Noises Off… is even funnier … The comic invention is so prodigal that there are moments when you are no longer certain quite what you are laughing at … Miraculously Posner and his great cast make it every bit as funny as what has gone before. There isn’t a single weak performance, but there is particularly delightful work from Celia Imrie as the lovable old soap star Dotty Otley, who is having a fling with Jamie Glover’s much younger, and hilariously dim, leading man. I also loved Amy Nuttall as a bimbo who is repeatedly stripped to her scanties and keeps losing her contact lenses; and Jonathan Coy as an amiable old luvvie wrongly suspected of sexual double dealing. In these dark, anxious times, Noises Off offers an infallible escape into happiness."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Lindsay Posner’s blissful, daftly immaculate rendering of Michael Frayn’s farce about a farce… is the only play to run Act 1 three times … Part of the joy is seeing real actors — Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Karl Johnson, Jamie Glover, Jonathan Coy, Amy Nuttall — deploying immense skill and discipline to portray fictional actors with neither … Lord of misrule is Karl Johnson as the really old one, Selsdon, who must be kept away from the whisky bottle but once knew Myra Hess … Too many joys to list: Celia Imrie’s face as she sits on a plate of sardines, Jamie Glover hopping upstairs with shoelaces tied together, Aisling Loftus, the assistant stage manager, stiffening as she catches Selsdon’s whisky-breath, Glover falling downstairs. Glenister as the director, Lloyd, is a fount of delight too … As Lloyd says, 'Getting the doors open. And shut. That’s farce. That’s theatre. That’s life!'"

Paul Taylor

"There has never been a more brilliantly conceived machine for generating helpless audience laughter than Michael Frayn's 1982 classic Noises Off … Mayhem erupts in near-silent slapstick as the feuding actors simultaneously struggle to keep the show on the road and sabotage each other … You feel throughout that this revival is a real labour of love … On both the choreographic and the characterisation fronts, this production delivers … The delicious Celia Imrie brings her wonderful Acorn Antiques credentials to the faintly grand thesp… while Janie Dee is sublime as Belinda Blair … But then everyone is terrific, from Karl Johnson's drunken old actor laddie to Robert Glenister's terminally cynical director to Jonathan Coy who is adorable as a nervous dimwit who doesn't seem to understand the first thing about farce conventions. Unlike Michael Frayn who here offers two uproarious plays for the price of one."


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