Reviewed by Samela Harris
Make ‘em laugh. It’s a showbiz catch-cry. For comedic actors, audience laughter is a veritable drug.
But, high comedy is the hardest of the arts, not only in the need for extremely skilful writing but in the timing, timing, timing of the actors.
Noises Off may be the ultimate test case. Written by the master of English farce, Michael Frayn, it is an insanely busy play with an awful lot of doors and props plus a complex reversible set.
In three acts, it depicts a comedy called Nothing On in rehearsal and in production with one act devoted to that same show on tour as seen from backstage.
Escalating mayhem is the shortest description. The characters are classic old school thespians complete with offstage relationships and quirks. There’s lots of luvvie and darling and ego massaging; quite close to the bone, really.
As an unfunded non-professional company with a small crew, the Rep has been wildly ambitious in staging this monster of theatrical silliness, but David Sinclair is a seasoned and seemingly fearless director who has designed the English country house set with its two floors of doors and its very important garden window. It all sort of works and even if it doesn’t, it is grist for the mill of a play about everything going wrong.
There are some lovely performances in this production in which bad performances are good. Outstandingly terrible and utterly adorable is Cassie Gaiter as Brook, the shrill and wooden ingenue. Wide-eyed with big batting eyelashes and wearing high white boots and sexy black undergarments, she stands out like a traffic light. Her character is there for a naughty weekend with the handsome young letting agent who thinks the house is empty. But, of course, it already contains the trusty, crusty factotum, Mrs Clackett, who, aptly embodied by Julie Quick, is being played by an old darling of the stage who has endless trouble remembering her cues and props. Sardines will never be the same again.
So, because each actor is playing an actor, there are double cast names and even a program within the program. And the “empty” country house is a scene of double trysts and lots of twists.
Thomas Filsell gives a breathtaking performance in the shoes of the romantic rental agent. Heart-in-your-mouth prat fall department. Truly.
Peter Davis gives authority to the role of the exhausted director with Brad Martin properly a complete pain as the complete pain, Freddie Fellows, and Robyn Brooks hilarious as the stereotypical over-informed, over-helpful cast member. Then there’s beloved old stalwart Ian Rigney playing the beloved old stalwart with a drinking problem who, in turn, is playing the burglar. He has some of the best lines in the play.
Last but never least are Maxine Grubel as the actress playing the assistant stage manager, Polly, and Jamie Wright as her hapless senior – both called upon to go far beyond the line of duty.
If all of this is not quite clear, bad luck.
The play itself is there to be seen in The Arts. Complete with awful wigs and a character wearing unlucky green onstage.
Whatever wasn’t working on the first night is sure to be working on the next night. If one can work out what is meant and not meant to work.
It can only get faster and funnier as the season runs in.