Noises Off

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, February 27

MICHAEL Frayn’s Noises Off is not only exceptionally funny, but also – as Jonathan Biggins writes in his director’s note – has the darkest of undercurrents. A group of actors, some of them not entirely in their prime, have been cast in a production of a farce called Nothing On. The piece is a by-the-numbers sex comedy booked on a tour of some of England’s drearier cities and Frayn shows it to us from three perspectives: the shambolic tech run just before opening; a month into the run as relationships are souring, seen from backstage; and later in the run as the actors and their play disintegrate before our eyes.

The cast of Noises Off. Photo: Brett Boardman
The cast of Noises Off. Photo: Brett Boardman

Biggins invokes the names of Pirandello, Beckett and Stoppard in discussing what Frayn has achieved with Noises Off and he could well have also mentioned Pinter, a writer who could suggest the most nightmarish of worlds lurking just outside the door. Noises Off has a lot of doors, of course, through which Nothing On’s characters constantly hurtle, unless being thwarted by locks that seem to operate themselves or handles that won’t behave. These characters can’t be still. They must be forever on the move, trying to stay ahead in a game they either don’t understand at all or spectacularly misunderstand.

The actors tasked with playing the performers in the play within a play – I’m talking here about the likes of Garry LeJeune, Brooke Ashton, Belinda Blair and Dotty Otley, not the real actors who play them, who are, respectively, Josh McConville, Ash Ricardo, Tracy Mann and Genevieve Lemon – are also trying to get ahead and stay there, no matter what goes wrong. The one thing they all must do is to go on, in both senses of that phrase. They are obliged to go onstage; and there is the necessity to endure. Same for the real actors playing the make-believe actors.

In writing this I hope I don’t sound too much like the author of the program for Nothing On, which is helpfully inserted into Sydney Theatre Company’s Noises Off booklet. It explores “the cultural importance” of the bedroom farce in much academic detail, including a close analysis of the recurring feature of “the fall or loss of trousers”, which of course alludes to the Fall of Man. Gold dust.

Biggins has assembled a delightful cast who work their socks off and thoroughly earn every roar of laughter. I hope the reception helps assuage their exhaustion at the end of each highly physical, incredibly intricate performance. A tricky thing, farce. Full marks in particular go to McConville for a bravura performance of a very high order (and if you saw him in The Boys at Griffin, you’ll know just what a chameleon the man is) and to Marcus Graham playing the director of Nothing On, Lloyd Dallas. Graham carries off costume designer Julie Lynch’s divine 60s threads with flair. And flares.

Noises Off runs at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House until April 5.

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