Sardines, Telephones, Tax Avoiders, Axes, Whiskey, Flowers and more Sardines. One of the most famous British Comedies is back on tour with a star-sprinkled cast.
A crowd-pleasing show performed to exhausting perfection
Noises Off is a carefully choreographed ballet that replaces plié’s with props and requires perfectly synchronised split-second timing to bring the house down at the final curtain. The play’s schtick is that we watch the play-within-a-play three times, firstly at the dress rehearsal, secondly from behind the scenes mid-tour and finally from the closing night.
In true farce fashion, there’s everything you would expect from a show devised in the early 1980’s. Multiple doors, mistresses in skimpy clothes, trousers falling down, cactus’s being sat on and a slightly out-of-date Arab sheikh turning up at the very end.
Veteran actress Felicity Kendall plays veteran actress Dotty Otley, playing veteran housekeeper Mrs Clackett, who deals with countless plates of sardines and a phone that bedevils her all night. Kendall’s Dotty is less a farcical figure and more a sympathetic sort and whilst the laughs were there, they were perhaps more muted than the role presents. Similarly Sasha Frost did not quite provide the laughs as the dolly-bird Brooke Ashton (in what, to be fair, is an underwritten role) whilst Pepter Lunkuse as Poppy Norton Taylor and Hubert Burton as Tim Allgood also didn't quite confidentally conjure up the shambolic stage management team.
There is, however excellence from Joseph Millson’s acrobatic feats as Garry Lejune, who makes full use of the superb set from Simon Higlett, along with Tracy-Ann Oberman as gossipy matriarch Belinda Blair. Matthew Kelly also plays up the camp comedy as old-soak Selsdon.
It’s a crowd-pleasing show performed to exhausting perfection here, but there’s something slightly off amid all the chaos. This is a more sympathetic take on the comedy masterpiece and doesn’t quite deliver the laughter that director Lindsay Posner’s 2011 production managed. There’s a sadness to many of the characters that wasn’t previously there.
Whilst the sequences we all remember are still performed, it’s almost as though the cast are going through the motions without quite the same conviction as before. Is this a social commentary on where theatre is these days? Is this a critique on touring companies? Is this now a play-within-a-play-within-a play? Has Noises Off turned from a bawdy farce to a nuanced reflection on modern day life?
As the script says perhaps, ‘Think of this as the dress rehearsal. That's what it's all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off.
That's farce. That's - that's the theatre. That's life'.