“I’m never going to see Basingstoke again!” Yes, Michael Frayn’s classic theatrical comedy, Noises Off, is back in a revival by Colchester’s Mercury Theatre.
This lunacy has been entertaining audiences for more than 30 years and the laughter isn’t set to dry up anytime soon.
The latest production opened last night as part of the Mercury’s Made In Colchester season and it had the house giggling from the off.
Noises Off is, to use an old fashioned cliché, comedy gold. It’s a farce that, fabulously, keeps on giving.
Frayn’s dialogue about the pitfalls and pratfalls of a not-so-successful rep company’s national tour of a farce is sharply observed.
And his characters are wonderfully familiar. There’s the harassed director who is a bit too hands on, an old Shakespearean thesp with a liking for the sauce, a dumb blonde, a handsome lead who..you know.. is..well..you know (in need of inspiration) and an actress who can’t remember her sardines.
It’s a deceptively complicated story, told, in effect, three times, each more madcap than the last, as we follow Otstar Productions’ Nothing On through its final rehearsal, behind the scenes of an opening night and curtain up on another performance.
Nothing On is set in the drawing room of a smart country residence and the technical rehearsal is going badly.
Dotty Otley, who is playing housekeeper Mrs Clackett, (Louise Jameson, a very glam char) is having trouble with her lines – and the sardines – and the phone – and a newspaper.
Each run-through is a disaster with under-pressure director Lloyd Dallas (Hywel Simons) struggling to remain sane.
Garry and Brooke make their entrances as estate agent Roger and his bit of fluff Vicki (beautifully played by Hollyoaks pair Louis Tamone and Sarah Jayne Dunn).
But Garry finds it hard to express himself in any coherent way while the gorgeous Brooke, who spends most of the performance in black basque and stockings, loses her contacts and never deviates from her lines even when chaos breaks out on and off stage.
Stalwarts Belinda and Freddy (the always excellent Sara Crowe and David Shelley) try to keep the production on course but he has nose bleeds at the sight of violence, and then passes out.
And then there’s the problem with magnificently spoken Selsdon (The Bill’s Chief Supt Brownlow, Peter Ellis) who regularly disappears for a little snifter, is a bit on the deaf side, and misses his cues.
Will it be alright on the night? Will Lloyd steer his motley crew through bookings like Weston-Super-Mare and Lowestoft without the show being scuppered by petty jealousy and malicious pranks? Will Garry survive the run?
“Doors and sardines, that’s what it’s all about” announces Lloyd. “That’s farce, that’s life.”
Add dropping your trousers, tearing around the set at breakneck speed and coming out with absurd lines (“I can’t come to bed, I’m glued to a tax demand!”) and he’s right.
There are seven doors and a staircase in the show’s impressively designed set (which is built on a revolve for the second “behind the scenes” act) and the actors hurl themselves up, down and through them all. It’s a physically exhausting show, both for the cast and the audience.
Both Lloyd and his real life nemesis Daniel Buckroyd, Colchester’s artistic director, do a tremendous job with both companies of actors.
There’s a super scene where the cast abuse each other in mime because the show’s going on, and that includes an actory catfight between Dotty and Belinda, plus an incident with a cactus, a bottle of Scotch, flowers and tied shoelaces.
Noises Off is an insanely funny, laugh-a-second show. Nothing On is a work in progress.
Noises Off runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, until May 16.
Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ is a fabulously funny farce comedy at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. Highly recommended!