Go and enjoy this really, really good show.
Entering, it already feels that you've walked into a fantasy RPG: there's medieval music, four bright banners and a throne are on the stage, and you are shown to your seat by one of the chatty, costumed performers. Games are taking place, including bows and arrows, and putting young audience members into the the stocks. By the time the show begins, we are already warm.
The four performers take on roles and attributes assigned to them by our suggestions. On this day, we have a dwarf skilled in rhythmic gymnastics, a wizard with an invisible potato peeler, an elf ballet dancer, and a sworn enemy of the twelfth regeneration of Doctor Who. Using these prompts for the first song, we are treated to a slick and funny number. Disappointingly, these quirks rarely resurface later in the plot, and are instead replaced by almost constant requests from the audience for new ideas. Each shout from the audience is met by a rapid quip from the performers: becoming a bicycle, one responds that he is the ‘spokesperson’; one unhappy member of Sausageland explains that German sausages are the Wurst; and so on. The troupe are brilliantly attuned to each other, and able to set-up each other's gags with instinctive ease.
The Noise basically insert jokes based on our prompts with a strict pre-existing format - in the opening number, for example, it is clear that the chorus lines are always the same. If you are an improv snob you might view this as something of a cheat, but it does ensure that their show is incredibly reliable. The same is broadly true of the scenes which happen between songs: they have such a tight script for the moments between prompts that you are seamlessly transported between plot points without really realising what is going on.
This is both their greatest asset and their biggest problem: their set-pieces ensure that there is never a weak moment, and any skits which are going less well can be smoothed over in a way that improvisers without a net cannot rely on. However, the moments which work best are actually those which are clearly unprepared, are fresh and genuinely surprising to the other members on stage. For us, the use of props brought particular inventiveness from the performers, and meant that they found new ways to interact with each other through a mop head as a toupee, a sweat towel as a saddle, a snapped sword cello taped to his forehead as a unicorn horn.
The troupe trust and enjoy each other's performances, and it's a joy to watch the moments where they are riffing from their responses. As is often the case, the moments where things go slightly wrong are the most delightful: for us, the costume of the many-legged monster became twisted and created a wonderfully skew-whiff beast writhing around the stage. I have no doubt there would be equally fun snippets on other days.
Afternoon shows are traditionally marketed for families, and Noise does a better job than most at actually catering for the younger members. A fight invites all kids on the stage to hit the performers with the foam swords, for example, and they use the children for as many of the featured characters as possible. However, somewhat ironically, they are scuppered in their intention by the lack of children in the audience: only three under-14s, to a packed room of adults.
Still, Noise manage to achieve the Pixar balance of family entertainment: fun which can be enjoyed by everyone, and enough euphemism to theoretically go over the children's heads but tickle the parents. Go and enjoy this really, really good show.