Bang On: Review of STC’s Noises Off
It is a rare pleasure to see faultless theatre, and director Jonathan Biggins’ Noises Off (1982), now playing with the Sydney Theatre Company, is one such production.
Since it was first staged, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off has been branded an exemplar of theatrical farce, and it’s easy to see why. The piece revolves around a third-rate touring company’s attempt to stage Nothing On, a bedroom comedy. The action is broken into three acts, each focused on the first act of Nothing On as it is staged at various points throughout its run. Act one is the final midnight rehearsal before opening night and they are all drastically underprepared, plagued by missed cues, dropped lines and a plate of sardines that doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going. Act two picks up a month into the tour, only this time we witness the mayhem from behind the stage. Slapstick abounds as relationships deteriorate. All rush around attempting to keep the show together whilst also determined to sabotage each other’s performances. In Act three we learn that somehow they made it to closing night, and once again we witness the combustion (again from the audience’s perspective) as every conceivable thing goes wrong.
One can only marvel at the standard set by this ensemble. The performers are required to play the same act three times, only each time it has to go wrong in a slightly different way. The rehearsal process must have been a nightmare, especially when choreographing the second act. That the finished product looks so polished is a credit to Biggins’ directorial hand. The comedy is timed perfectly, the costumes are beautiful (garish 70s garb) and Mark Thompson’s set is a treat, both front and back.
The cast were all in fine shape. From the outset, this truly was an ensemble production with absolutely no weak links to speak of. Particularly impressive was Josh McConville as Garry, a stuttering actor of jealous proportions. McConville’s athleticism was unrivalled; he’s the reason why acting looks fun again.
Genevieve Lemon (from Simon Stone’s Death of a Salesman) plays Garry’s sour love interest Dotty, a ‘late’ middle-aged actress. She is often forgetful though perfectly well-meaning until she is rubbed the wrong way. Lemon bounces around the stage, whilst being deliciously vicious behind, making for a riotously engaging performance.
Tracy Mann plays Belinda, the cheerful gossip, possessing a wonderful “glass half full” demeanour. Mann’s reliability enables the other players to hang by their fingertips, without risking unbridled chaos. Mann’s partner in crime, Alan Dukes is perfectly dim-witted as the high maintenance though rather pompous Freddie. His confidence is diminished every time he has a nose bleed (a nervous reaction to violence), making for a hilariously ‘battered’ outcome.
Ash Ricardo puts the ‘body’ in embody when it comes to Brooke, the young, blonde and unsophisticated actress hailing from London. Clueless to a tee, Brooke frequently loses her contact lenses, spending half her time on the floor looking for them. Ricardo has pitched the ‘bimbo’ factor perfectly – you know what they say, you gotta be smart to play dumb. Marcus Graham is marvellous as the fizzled director Lloyd Dallas, offering droll direction with a ‘Steve Coogan’ dry wit. Graham also nails Lloyd’s thinly veiled sleaze as he fawns over Brooke.
Ron Haddrick is delightfully senile as Selsdon the rickety drunk. At 85 years old, Haddrick holds his own amongst his co-stars. From behind the wings, Lindsay Farris is lovely as Tim the over-worked Stage Manager – think Alan Davies in the 70s. He sports the mullet with pride and is largely a deer in headlights when calamity ensues. Danielle King plays the over-sensitive Poppy, a young assistant to Lloyd, with whom she is hopelessly in love. King never overdoes ‘schoolgirl’ whilst managing to convince us that if she were around today, she would fit in easily with Justin’s ‘beliebers’.
Nothing can be faulted in this production. If you’ve got a night off and there are free tickets available this is a show you don’t want to miss. You never would have thought that battling sardines and slamming doors could lead to so many laughs.
Noises Off is playing out of the Opera House Drama Studio with the Sydney Theatre Company until the 5th of April. For more information see: