A company of relatively inept actors attempt to stage a tour of poorly written play, Nothing On. What could possibly go wrong? In Act 1 it’s midnight, the show opens in less than 24 hours, they’ve had less than two weeks’ rehearsal and they still haven’t finished their dress rehearsal. We are introduced to the company of fictional actors who are caricatures of what I think many would stereotype actors to be, my favourite being the gossip mongering Belinda played by Sarah Hadland who goes around calling everyone my sweet to their face whilst spreading rumours about them behind their backs. Then there’s Frederick who stops rehearsals to truly understand his character’s motives in carrying boxes on and off stage, and Garry who is ridiculously pretentious in trying to say something profound whilst saying nothing at all. The frustrated director, Lloyd, just as much a caricature, makes unreasonable demands and upsets everyone in his wake.
If this is what being behind the scenes at the theatre is truly like I’m glad I’m in front of the curtain. Each actor plays their part expertly but, equally, with such shallow stereotypes their depth is ultimately a bit limited.
I particularly enjoyed Act 2 where the set has been flipped and we are taken backstage somewhere in the middle of the tour. Belinda is trying desperately to keep the play running by throwing people out onto the stage at the right times to say their lines; meanwhile behind the scenes silent arguments are taking place, flowers are flying everywhere and props are being used as weapons. This was by far the funniest and most original part of the show with some very slick choreography.
Act 3 takes us into the audience for the final night of the tour, the set is falling apart as are the people. By this point the humour is starting to wear thin. We’ve heard all the jokes in Nothing On twice before (and they weren’t exactly side splittingly funny the first time) and there’s only so much humour you can get out of backstage affairs and inept actors before it starts to get a little grating. It’s all a bit predictable and the show starts to drag.
The way the production is put together is fantastic – the set design is great, in the first act making us believe in a house, then in the second ruining that magic by taking us to the empty space behind the doors. The use of props and the skill required in making sure they are all in the right place at the right time when they are moving around at lightning speed is seriously impressive and the company rise to this challenge impeccably.
This is an entertaining night out at the theatre and even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the story, such was its reliance on stereotypes and obvious jokes, I was able to look beyond that and just appreciate the sheer talent that it must have taken to stage and perform this show.
Review by Emily Diver
Michael Frayn’s side-splitting backstage comedy, Noises Off has returned to the West End and will play the Garrick Theatre until 4 January 2020, following a phenomenally successful extended run at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre this summer.
The West End cast includes Sarah Hadland, Richard Henders, Lisa McGrillis, Anjli Mohindra, Lloyd Owen, Adrian Richards, Daniel Rigby, Simon Rouse and Meera Syal.
After watching from the wings a production of his 1970 farce The Two of Us with Richard Briers and Lynn Redgrave, also at the Garrick Theatre, and noting that the goings on behind the scenes were funnier than out front, Michael Frayn wrote Noises Off. With technical brilliance and split-second timing, Noises Off takes us behind the scenes with a company of actors touring their tatty production of Nothing On, in a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to the unpredictability of life in the theatre.
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Jeremy Herrin
Designed by Max Jones
Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH
First performance: 27th September 2019
Last performance: 4th January 2020
Press night: 3rd October 2019, 7pm
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances at 2.30pm