Lyric Hammersmith, London – until 27 July 2019
The ‘technical difficulties’ that unexpectedly halted the opening night of Noises Off at the Lyric Hammersmith brought the house down. They couldn’t have been funnier than if they’d been planned.
That it happened in front of playwright, Michael Frayn, no doubt acutely embarrassed director Jeremy Herrin, but everyone else found it hilarious. The lights had gone out earlier in the evening and actors Lloyd Owen and Lois Chimimba had gamely stumbled on for a few lines before the stage manager came on to announce there was a problem.
The 10-minute interlude, plus issues plaguing the opening of Act Three, fitted in perfectly with this story about the pratfalls and pitfalls of staging a comedy, and no one minded a bit. If anything it added to the mayhem.
Noises Off premiered at the Lyric 37 years ago and it has returned for a celebratory revival starring Meera Syal, Owen and Daniel Rigby. Not that this iconic comedy has been away. There have been London seasons, national and international tours and even productions by ambitious am-dram groups.
This hilarious farce, about doors and sardines, pays homage to theatre and, in particular, the old-fashioned rep companies who used to ply their trade in the provinces. Frayn frames the show around the trials and tribulations of a touring company who are staging a good old fashioned romp called Nothing On.
It is set in a rather nice country house drawing room owned by Philip and Flavia Brent but the pair have decamped to Spain, leaving behind housekeeper Mrs Clackett and plans for it to be rented out.
The first act sees frustrated director Lloyd Dallas (Owen) trying to lick his cast into shape at the final rehearsal before they open in Weston-super-Mare. Things aren’t going well.
Veteran star Dotty Otley (Syal) is playing Mrs Clackett but she can’t remember her lines; young actor Garry LeJeune (Daniel Rigby) is..well.you..know..struggling to string a sentence together as randy estate agent Roger.
Meanwhile the reliable Frederick (Jonathan Cullen) is looking for his motivation while trying to stem nose bleeds and not faint.
On top of all that vacuous blonde, Brooke, keeps losing her contact lens and old stager, Selsdon, is finding it difficult to remain sober and hit his cues.
We got through Act One with everything pretty much firing on all cylinders.
Mrs Clackett’s Dotty had her plates of sardines, Garry was intent on a quick one with Brooke’s tax inspector, Vicki, and the ex-pats (Cullen’s Fellowes and Debra Gillett’s Belinda Blair) had sneaked back home for a visit.
Act Two of this meta-farce sees the set reversed and it’s opening night. The audience is now behind the scenes as nerves, petty rivalries and feuds threaten to wreck the production.
So throwing in a few extra calamities almost looked deliberate. And when the troubles continued into the final Act (which sounded suspiciously like problems turning the set around) the invited audience were laughing uncontrollably.
Overall this is a good, solid revival even if a few of the gags failed to hit home or were weakly delivered.
Daniel Rigby is outstanding in the very physical role of Garry, hurling himself around the set and..you..know, failing to express himself. It’s exhausting just watching him but his timing is superb.
Michael Frayn’s sharply observed comedy has stood the test of time with remarkable ease. It’s still one of the funniest plays ever written and a riot from start to finish – with or without the addition of a few first night nerves.
Noises Off runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until July 27.
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