Theatre Royal Bath Productions, with Birmingham Rep
The Lowry, Salford
October 17–21, 2023: 2 hrs 20 mins
In an era of plays (and other things) That Go Wrong, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off remains the daddy of them all. Just over 40 years on from its creation, it’s as funny as ever, as we see a play about a farce, which descends – by the end – into farce.
It’s still running in the West End in its latest iteration, and the same production is now on an extensive tour, with star names including (Urmston’s own) Matthew Kelly and Liza Goddard on the bill.
We see, in theory, an old-fashioned British trouser-dropping farce called Nothing On at three points in its supposed provincial tour: first the final rehearsal, then from backstage during a matinee, then on its last night of all. The actors, all full of luvviedom at the outset, are at each other’s throats by halfway through the run and by the end... well, I’d better not give it all away.
Let’s just say that the eternal verities are all there: props that get lost, lines that get forgotten, actors who get drunk or are in the middle of their own secret affairs and feuds, scenery that falls to bits, and the desperate need for the show, somehow, to go on.
Lindsay Posner’s production starts at a cracking pace and gets faster, and everything seems to be well-timed even if one or two choice details are lost in the rush. Simon Higlett’s two sets have to be sturdy and stand up to all the slamming of doors (a prominent feature of this show) very well.
I’m comparing this version with the wonderful one directed by David Thacker as the swan song of his great farewell season at Octagon Theatre Bolton eight years ago. It doesn’t quite catch the sense of heroics among the chaos that was in that one, and there’s not the same skilled differentiation between actors doing their acting and being their real selves – Lisa Ambalavanar makes hers obvious with a choice repertoire of poses for her thespian self and slouches for the other, but there is a need not so much for conventional over-acting but “bad” acting... admittedly hard to do.
But these are quibbles, really, about an evening that has most people in stitches and can’t fail to be fun. When you see it, don’t fail to get a printed programme – that’s part of the entertainment, with its own, up-itself, “academic” introductory essay.
More info and tickets here