Noises Off – review
Noises Off, though, is much more than a straightforward rib-tickler, both savvier and savager than the other theatreland farces currently on offer, a virtuoso tightrope act that generates comedy from our fear of the abyss.
Noises Off, though, is much more than a straightforward rib-tickler, both savvier and savager than the other theatreland farces currently on offer, Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors and Graham Linehan’s rampantly successful update of The Ladykillers: a virtuoso tightrope act that generates comedy from our fear of the abyss.
As we follow a troupe of actors touring a geriatric sex comedy (winkingly called Nothing On) through flyblown regional theatres, observing from a variety of angles as the on-stage action is overwhelmed by real-life pratfalls, it becomes less a voyage of dramatic discovery than a penitential progress. It’s genuinely hard to work out if the play is a tribute to thespians keeping calm and carrying on (or off), or a forensic dissection of the limitations of theatre.
Lindsay Posner’s production is a feat of technical brilliance that hasn’t sagged in the least since I saw it three and a half months ago, but neither (despite two new cast members) has it much changed: finely tuned, superbly crafted, but a thing of mechanical precision rather than wild laughter. It’s at its most rewarding in the second act, a ballet of backstage chaos whose astonishing intricacy – a blur of errant props, mistimed cues and acts of silent revenge – would not have disgraced Merce Cunningham.
The cast remains uneven. Robert Glenister seems to have reached the end of the road as the vulpine, bullying director, and Jamie Glover, not a natural comedian, has yet to discover self-irony as a leading man frustrated in love. But Lucy Briggs-Owen (taking over from Amy Nuttall) offers doe-eyed pathos as the female lead whose attention span is as unreliable as her contact lenses, while Celia Imrie’s tragicomic charwoman has, if anything, become more absorbing to watch: a glorious confection of precarious ego and incipient dementia. When she cries out, “I leave the sardines?” she somehow gives the line a riddling philosophical resonance worthy of Beckett.