Play number two was a matinee of Noises Off at the Phoenix Theatre. This was the second time in months that we had been to the Phoenix, having seen Come from Away there just last year. We were in almost the same seats too.
Noises Off is, of course, the 1982 comedy by Michael Frayn, going behind the scenes of the production of a comedic play, which becomes even more farcical behind the scenes than it does in front. This new run, for several weeks in February and March, boasted a stellar cast, including Felicity Kendall, Matthew Kelly and the splendidly-named Hubert Burton.
The play starts with Mrs Clackett, the housekeeper, preparing some sardines for tea. It soon becomes clear that all is not well – she stumbles over her lines and gets confused over her props. From the wings comes the booming voice of the frustrated director, Lloyd Dallas, and it’s apparent that we are actually watching a rehearsal of a show. So Mrs Clackett is played by Dotty Otley, who is played by Felicity Kendall. Hope that is clear.
Other cast members include Brooke, who is forever losing her contact lens; Freddie, who gets nosebleeds at the merest hint of violence; and Selsdon, an elderly alcoholic who is prone to hiding bottles of booze around the set.
When the curtain comes up on act two, the set has been rotated and we are now viewing backstage. Chaos breaks out as the cast and crew struggle with a love triangle being revealed, the under-rehearsed script and the fact that several actors can’t stand each other. The poor put-upon stage managers, Poppy and Tim, have to do their best to keep the show going. Brilliantly this has all been set up in act one; we essentially see the play-within-a-play again, but this time from the backstage point of view, as cast members make their entrances and exits (or not, as the case may be).
Bonus points for the show’s programme, which was written as if Nothing On was a real show, with some wonderfully amusing fictional biographies for the cast.
Noises Off was excellent. Farce is difficult to perform at the best of times. Performing a farce play about a farce play is next-level. The cast did a great job with impeccable comic timing, and the audience was in stitches throughout.
And of course, I had excellent company to see it with.
If you want to see this performance of Noises Off — er, you’re too late. It finished on Saturday!