Reviewed By Daniel Barnett
Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s beloved 1980s farce, kept the Arts Theatre in raucous laughter last night as the Adelaide Repertory Theatre’s production hits all the right notes (and a certain actor’s poor head).
Truly an artists play, Noises Off concerns a company of actors at a multitude of points in a regional tour of a raunchy English farce, and bounces through all the problems these shows have. With only two weeks rehearsal, thousands of individual sardines, and one hapless old drunk whose lines everybody knows – except him – it’s amazing the show gets up, but gets up it does.
Director David Sinclair has pieced this physical marvel together line perfect, as he has actors screaming from wing to wing (both in the theatre itself and within the world of the play), with an active and frenetic energy that kept the audience wanting to come back and see how the actors would break down throughout the three acts.
The ensemble cast hit the highest highs, with some brilliant character swings for the fence (and for the heads of their cast mates). Peter Davies channels every director every actor has ever had in a bristling performance that is as farcical as it is strangely true to life, bouncing off all his actors. Julie Quick is temperamental and imperious, and yet terrifically absent minded as Dame Dotty, constantly feeling her much younger paramour Gary, played with physical brilliance by Thomas Filsel. Ian Rigney’s Selsdon is decrepit but the most lovable drunkard in theatre; Robyn Brookes’s Belinda is seemingly the only person with the drive to actually finish the play within the play, and Brookes keeps the pace, bouncing from interaction to interaction with aplomb. She was only beaten for the absolute indomitable need to say the right line by the newcomer Brooke, Cassie Gaiter. Gaiter is marvellously camp, the most dependable of cast mates – always knows what lines she’s up to. Another master of camp is Brad Martin as the foppish Freddie, who faints as often as he gets his lines right. Finally, our backstage duo of Poppy and Tim, played with an honest bitterness by Maxine Grubel and Jamie Wright, with a most weary fatigue that only the stage management team of a small regional tour of the Midlands can truly know.
The set is a modern throwback, drawing the audience into a world of plain realism, one that allows the ridiculousness of our actors’ actions to unfold in front of them. Costuming is a pastiche, harkening back to 60s mod, spaghetti westerns, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, without ever being over the top.
And that’s where the Rep’s Noises Off succeeds, it makes the right choices. It would be so easy to throw every idea at the stage – drama, costume, staging, set, props, but that’s where our play within a play consistently falls apart. Sinclair and his team allow the work to speak for itself, and what it says is brilliantly funny.