21
Jun
17

Noises Off

Noises Off
Queensland Theatre & Melbourne Theatre Company
QPAC Playhouse
3 – 25 June 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

In all probability, an amateur theatre company near you has given Michael Frayn’s classic farce, Noises Off, a red hot go, and perhaps they shouldn’t have. On the other hand, it might be the best thing you’ve seen on a local stage for some time… Anyway, what a joy it is to fall about laughing at a full-scale professional production! This one’s a beauty, with a stellar cast, and a detailed two-storey set and full revolve (designed by Richard Roberts with lighting by Ben Hughes) to reveal the goings on of putting on a show called Nothing On; it’s all very meta.

Under the fearless direction of Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, and with many doors and sardines and rewrites involved (it’s all about doors and sardines), this cast tears through the text, slapsticks through the spaces in between, and quells any audience fear of having to lie through their gritted teeth at the opening night party to say we thoroughly enjoyed the three-hours, after it felt like we’d endured five. In bold defiance of the one-act-no-interval entree sized shows that have become popular, this feast is served up in three rich courses, each more complex than the next, and only as successful as each set up. Luckily, the hard work in setting up the many gags appears effortless, although we know it is not; with so many tiny details to remember to attend to, and never actually getting a break offstage, even when they are seen by us to be “offstage”, these performers demonstrate athletic endurance and artistic mastery.

 

It’s a uniformly excellent company. Simon Burke as Lloyd Dallas, the director of Nothing On, leaps up the stairs from the auditorium onto the stage, but only when he feels he absolutely must make an appearance, to coax or console or clarify, as Zach does in A Chorus Line. We hear his voice first, the “voice of God”, a rich, authoritative tone that also captures his enduring kindness and patience, until he lets slip the weary tone of a repertory director who never made it to the West End. At times Burke’s pace is either slightly self-indulgent or beautifully realised – you decide – and when he disappears again, leaving the company in order to direct a highly anticipated production of Richard III (we get a surreal glimpse of the show within the show within the show), you might decide we all know directors like this and it’s the latter; he’s nailed it.

Ray Chong Nee is Gary, a vague actor when talking about the process, but a perfectionist within the process, so that when sardines and phones and bags and boxes are not where they should be, he flips out, unable to improvise or to take the cues from his fellow actors to get through a scene gone awry. We all know actors like Gary. And like Hugh Parker’s hilarious Freddie who plays Phillip, prone to nosebleeds brought on by the demands of being an actor. Steven Tandy is the most delightful elderly Selsdon, an alcoholic actor/bumbling burglar, the cause of much distress amongst the cast when he goes AWOL. Emily Goddard is the gorgeous and hopeless Poppy (ASM) and James Saunders is fantastically funny as Tim (SM).

Libby Munro is Brooke the brunette bombshell, who is credited in the program-within-the-program as being best known for roles such as the girl wearing nothing but ‘good, honest, natural froth’ in an unpronounceable lager commercial. Her fictional bio gives us an idea of the pretty, vacuous thing Munro gets to play as Brooke playing Vicki, proving her versatility after fierce performances in Disgraced, Grounded and Venus in Fur, and also the results of intensive physical training for her first feature film, recently wrapped in LA, Wild Woman. Louise Siverson is sensational as Dotty Otley/Mrs Clackett and Nicki Wendt as Belinda as Flavia adds a distinctly bohemian diva element to this dysfunctional theatrical family.

 

There really is nothing funnier, or more impressive, than witnessing such disastrous results so brilliantly orchestrated and delivered by skilled performers. Nigel Poulton (Movement Director) has had a field day with complex choreographed sequences of fast and furious physical comedy, and Strong’s attention to detail means that no plate of sardines is left behind…except when it is supposed to be left behind…or is it supposed to be? As well as executing some precision direction, Strong has promoted a generous sharing/mentoring culture throughout the process, having been ably assisted by Leith McPherson (Associate Director/Dialect Coach) and Caroline Dunphy (Assistant Director), with Emily Miller having been invited to share in the artful chaos (Director Observation). Our leading companies, becoming more transparent and accessible each season not only help themselves to promote the magic and wonder of the theatre, but also engage audiences earlier, earning loyalty through genuine relationships between patrons and creatives.

 

This production of Noises Off, probably the funniest meta-farce ever, while not a direct reflection of all that goes on in a theatre company (I guess it depends on the company!), certainly gives us a moment to reflect on why we do what we do, and why as creative types, we need to keep doing it, and guarantees all, whether or not you consider yourself to be a creative type or a comedy type or a trip-to-the-theatre type, an evening of raucous laughter and good old fashioned fun.

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