not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Noises Off

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone. Its not an NFL themed post today – but if you want some American football action, may I point you at last year’s post. Instead I am back at the theatre where I’ve had a good week – in the space of seven days I’ve seen Sylvia, the new musical about Sylvia Pankhurst and Noises Off, Michael Frayne’s classic comedy about a touring production of a farce. I’m writing w the latter because I love a book within a book and this is a play with in a play. And it made me laugh until my sides ached.

Noises Off follows a theatre company as they put on a production of a sex farce called Nothing On. Each of the three acts is the same act of the play – starting with the disastrous final rehearsal, then the backstage view several weeks into the tour and finally the last night of the tour from the front. I don’t know what else to say without ruining it. Tempers fray? Personal relationships… sour? Anyway as the play goes on you see the show descend into chaos as the actors’ personality quirks and flaws slowly but undermine the show.

The play has just turned forty and you don’t really get sex farces any more, so on that front it is a bit dated, but I think it still works, especially as Frayn apparently has been lightly revising it over the years. I saw it a decade ago at the Old Vic and I think it was just as funny this time around. We went for my mum’s birthday (happy birthday Jo!) and she thinks she’s seen it about every ten years since it was new – and thinks this one is the best she’s seen. And I can vouch for the fact that she laughed until she cried! I think the second act is my favourite, because I love the backstage view, as you hear the action out front while the actors frantically mime out their issues behind the scenes. Although the final pay off is just genius and build on everything that you’ve seen all evening.

It’s not cutting edge or avant garde, but it is very funny and sometimes the old ones are the best ones aren’t they? And it’s got lashings of slapstick humour as the cast hurl themselves around trying to keep the show going in increasingly difficult circumstances. Just brilliant.

Happy Sunday everyone.

6 thoughts on “Not a Book: Noises Off”

  1. I echo everything said about ” Noises Off”. I admired the precision timing, essential to this play and the sheer athleticism of the actors. One part reminded me of a work colleague 40 years ago who would frequently have me down on my knees groping for her contact lens on the floor of her office. In general, it’s wonderful and therapeutic in these troubling times to have a real laugh. What Madam doesn’t say is that she treated us ( Thank you Verity) and the theatre is so happily situated right opposite Foyles. No doubt the outcome from that will feature in a future post, under Books Bought!

  2. You might like to investigate “The Play That Goes Wrong”, Verity, and other pieces, including an entire TV series spin-off, all loosely inspired by “Noises Off”.
    You probably also know Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays “The Norman Conquests”: each of the three plays occurs at the same time: one in the living room, one in the dining room, and the third in the garden. As the audience becomes familiar with the overall situation, they recognise, while watching one of the plays, that noises in another room or outside are from the action of one of the other plays. And a character will leave through a door in one play and enter the setting of another play. And it is very funny, also.

    1. It may not surprise you to read that I have seen The Play Goes Wrong (twice!), Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Magic Goes Wrong and the tv series and also the play mischief did about school!

      I haven’t seen the Norman Conquests – when it was in London last the seats I could afford sold out so fast I didn’t get a chance. Definitely next time though.

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