Reviewed by Barry Lenny

The Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society is presenting Michael Frayn’s 1982 three-act farce, Noises Off, about the goings on behind the scenes of a production of a play-within-a-play, a bedroom farce titled Nothing On. We see the final dress/technical rehearsal of act one, still going past midnight as they try to get it right, a Wednesday matinée of the same act, a week into the run, this time seen from backstage, and the same act as seen by the audience, near the end of the season. The production is directed by David Sinclair, who has assembled a fine, hard working cast.

Lloyd Dallas, the director, played by Peter Davies, is frantically trying to get Nothing On ready to open, so that he can move on to directing Shakespeare’s Richard III. Lloyd is having an affair with Poppy, and also with Brooke, causing more upsets. Davies skillfully brings out all of the barely-controlled frustration that, over the course of the play builds to desperation, and angry outbursts, sharply adding Lloyd’s sarcastic remarks which, generally, go over the heads of his targets.

He is assisted by two very unlucky people, Tim Allgood, the Stage Manager, and understudy to all of the male roles, as well as general dogsbody, played by Jamie Wright, and Poppy Norton-Taylor, the Assistant Stage Manager, and understudy to all of the female roles, played by Maxine Grubel. They are run ragged trying to do their jobs, as well as carrying out all of the extraneous tasks that Lloyd heaps on them. Wright presents a timid Tim, the comedy coming from his inability to refuse Lloyd’s demands, no matter how unreasonable, and becoming flustered when his efforts to please go awry. Grubel‘s Poppy is the more competent of the two, but is continually taken away from her duties to hunt for Selsdon Mowbray, who is never there when needed. Grubel makes the most of the comedy that comes from the situations that arise from the complexity of Lloyd’s duplicity with Poppy and Brooke.

Julie Quick plays Dotty Otley, who is playing Mrs. Clackett. Dotty stumbles over her lines, and is constantly confused by the use of her props, mishandling the telephone, the newspaper, and plates of sardines. Dotty has invested her savings in the play, and also has a ‘toy boy’, the much younger, Garry. Quick creates a fun character, who is living life to the full, and is not averse to flirting with the other men.

Tom Filsell plays Garry Lejeune, who is playing Roger Tramplemain, a lecherous land agent looking after the rental of the house, but who has actually brought a young woman there for a sexual liaison. Cassie Gaiter plays Brooke Ashton, a vacuous and untalented actress who is playing Vicki, the young woman who spends most of Nothing On with next to nothing on, and who happens to be an employee of the tax department. They expected the house to be empty, but Mrs. Clackett had stayed around to watch a royal event on the television, interfering with their plans. Filsell’s Garry is insecure, jealous, and prone to violence but, most noticeably, goes into full physical comedy. You’ll see what I mean in Act 3. Gaiter gets her laughs by having Brooke lost in a little space of her own, oblivious to all that is going on around her, apart from Lloyd’s inconstancy, and ploughs on with her deadpan delivery of her lines, no matter how much the performance of Nothing On falls apart.

Brad Martin plays Frederick (Freddie) Fellowes, who is playing Philip Brent, and a Sheikh, and Robyn Brooks plays Belinda Blair, who is playing Philip’s wife, Flavia. The Brents have been living in Spain for years, to avoid the taxman, but have arrived home secretly for their anniversary, also expecting the house to be empty.
Martin generates plenty of humour from Freddie’s nosebleeds, reaction to the sight of blood, and dodging the attacks by Garry, while Brooks plays the most sensible of the group, the one who tries hard to keep the peace as relationships between others in the cast continue to deteriorate into physical violence.

It is not so much Where’s Wally as where’s Selsdon Mowbray, the devious, aging alcoholic who plays the minor role of the Burglar, and continually disappears, leading the others to search for him before he gets drunk. With a cast member becoming unavailable, veteran of the Adelaide stage, Ian Rigney, was coaxed out of retirement to take on the role of Selsdon. His vast experience showed in his impeccable comic timing, facial expressions, and all of the stage business involved in trying to get his hands on alcohol.

Aside from all of the individual performances, of course, is the close ensemble work that is essential for a farce to succeed, and this is very cohesive ensemble.

There were periods that could have used more pace, and some of the timing wasn’t quite right, but circumstances beyond their control had an effect on the cast’s performance. It improved as the night progressed and the cast became more accustomed to the set, as explained below.

A few more rehearsals with the set would have been of benefit but, unfortunately that wasn’t possible. The company has no external workshop or rehearsal space, so the two-level set was built from scratch on the stage, beginning on Sunday, while the cast rehearsed upstairs on a flat floor, imagining stairs, doors, and more. The basic structure was ready on Wednesday, but the eight doors weren’t fitted until Thursday, giving the cast only one dress/technical rehearsal on the full set before the Friday opening night.

It is a tribute to the hard work of the set builders, Stanley Tuck and Barry Blakebrough, and the members of the cast, that it was ready to face an audience in time. Set painting, I gather, will continue on Saturday before the matinee. Such are the trials and tribulations of amateur theatre. Richard Parkhill would have had a big job on his hands organising the lighting in such short time, too, and the stage crew didn’t have an easy time of it either, as the stage does not have a revolve, so turning the set around involved pulling it apart and rebuilding it during each interval. The company has had to overcome one challenge after another.

Nothing On is doomed from the start and what begins in chaos ends in mayhem and disaster, which is, of course, hilarious. You only have until next Saturday to catch this one.

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