noises off

Review: Noises Off, Richmond Theatre

Review: Noises Off, Richmond Theatre

Jenny Booth reviews this classic comedy: “this already vastly entertaining show will only improve with time.”


It was a case of life imitating art (imitating life imitating art) at the opening night of Noises Off at Richmond Theatre. Half the audience was kept waiting outside the theatre beyond the time the curtain was due to rise, due to technical difficulties – which was ironically appropriate for a play about a group of actors whose efforts to perform a play are hijacked by mounting technical, professional and emotional difficulties. The wait was forgiven, however, once the play finally got into its stride and accelerated through the frenzied final act. Bedazzled by the presence on stage of Felicity Kendal, swept away by the frantic and funny Michael Frayn script, the theatregoers gave the show a standing ovation, some with tears of laughter still streaming down their faces,
Noises Off rarely fails to reduce audiences to jelly. Frayn adds an extra dimension to the classic “trousers-fall-down” bedroom farce by showing us the chaos backstage that is fuelling the mayhem in front, exposing the jealousy, the vanity, the rivalry and eccentricity of a touring theatre group that has spent too long on the road. This motley crew includes an alcoholic has-been (Matthew Kelly), an arrogant leading man (Joseph Millson), a querulous method actor (Jonathan Coy), a naive ingenue (Sasha Frost) and a super-trouper (Tracy-Ann Oberman). The gender politics feels a little dated (two hysterical younger women both in love with the preening director?) but Frayn’s ingenious idea has become a wildly successful formula exploited by The Play That Goes Wrong and its many spin-offs.
There were teething troubles on opening night in veteran director Lindsay Posner’s production. Some scenes felt a little under-rehearsed; the distinguished cast had not yet fallen into a rhythm, and as a result the pantomime violence in the second act felt clunky and not all the jokes worked because the timing and delivery were not yet right. More distinction needed to be drawn between the backstage characters and the parts they were playing. Felicity Kendal remains a national treasure, but didn’t wholly convince as the love interest for two younger actors, partly because her comedy housekeeper part was more dominant than her portrayal of a flirtatious leading lady. But with such a wealth of acting talent on stage, I’m sure that – unlike the play within a play, Nothing On – this already vastly entertaining show will only improve with time.

Richmond Theatre, until 15 October 

Image: Joseph Millson (Garry), Felicity Kendal (Dotty) & Matthew Kelly (Selsdon) © Nobby Clark