Michael Frayn’s classic farce play, ‘Noises Off,’ graces the stage of the Birmingham Rep, taking audiences on a rollercoaster ride of comedic chaos. First performed in 1982, this metatheatrical gem unveils the backstage shenanigans of a touring production of ‘Nothing On,’ with each act offering a new framing device that breathes fresh life into the narrative.
The strength of ‘Noises Off’ lies in its mastery of physical comedy, which reaches its zenith under the skillful direction of Lindsay Posner and the guidance of Movement Director Ruth Cooper-Brown. Act two, in particular, is a whirlwind of uproarious hilarity, effectively redeeming any shortcomings encountered earlier in the performance.
Frayn’s ingenious storytelling intertwines intricate plotlines with a fantastically farcical tone, relishing in its own impressive absurdity. At its core, the play thrives as it encapsulates the essence of a farce, with its intricate mishaps and outrageous situations providing the foundation for uncontrollable laughter.
However, amidst the uproar, there are moments where the delicately woven narrative seems to strain. Supposedly essential narrative elements, especially involving romantic character relationships, are clumsily inserted without the care or resolve they deserve. The result is a jarring departure from the overall comedic finesse.
While ‘Noises Off’ is undoubtedly a classic representative of its time, the production doesn’t appear to attempt any modernization. This is a curious decision, especially considering the character of Lloyd, the Director, and his interactions with the younger female cast members. In the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement and heightened awareness of power dynamics in the theater industry, certain plot points and character choices come across as problematic missed opportunities for exploration.
The play’s pacing encounters a minor hiccup in the first act, where the momentum is a tad sluggish. Furthermore, the third act leaves some narrative threads dangling, resulting in an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.
In the realm of performances, Matthew Kelly shines as the aging alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray, although the script’s limitations somewhat restrict his character’s depth.
Liza Goddard’s portrayal exudes strength and a steady presence that evolves believably across acts, culminating in an unrestrained nonchalance. Simon Shepherd, as Lloyd Dallas, skillfully transitions between frustration as the comedic ‘straight man’ to thriving in the demanding realm of physical comedy.
Special mention goes to Lisa Ambalavanar’s Brooke Ashton, whose ‘in character’ moments as ‘Vicki’ deliver a delightful layer of dynamic comedy. Lucy Robinson is able to thoroughly shine as Belinda Blair, effortlessly and hilariously navigating the nuances of a struggling actress amidst the chaos. While Dan Fredenburgh’s portrayal of Garry Lejeune offers a showcase of physical comedy expertise, a demanding role mastered with finesse.
Simon Higlett’s set design, simple yet fitting, caters perfectly to the production’s requirements. Director Lindsay Posner’s expertise shines in the execution of physical comedy moments, even if the first act becomes somewhat monotonous. The production doesn’t reinvent the wheel due to text constraints, but it masterfully employs the established elements.
In conclusion, ‘Noises Off’ at the Birmingham Rep pays homage to the classic farce with skill and precision. While its foundations remain steadfast, the production’s reluctance to address certain modern nuances leaves room for reflection. As laughter reigns and chaos ensues, the play encapsulates the essence of a time-honored theatrical tradition.
Noises Off is playing at the Birmingham Rep until the 9th of September before continuing on its national tour.