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Noises Off at Theatre Royal Brighton

When I saw the original production of Noises Off at the Savoy Theatre with Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington and Nicky Henson way back in 1982 I thought it was the funniest play I had ever experienced, and, even though I have seen it several times since, I still find it as funny – and by funny I mean almost continuous laughter with Act 3 being even funnier than the first two acts.

NOISES OFF - Felicity Kendal (Dotty) © Nobby Clark.
NOISES OFF – Felicity Kendal (Dotty) © Nobby Clark.

The present Theatre Royal Bath touring revival, celebrating the play’s 40th birthday this year as well as the playwright’s 90th birthday in 2023 is the best directed (Lindsay Posner) and best acted that I have seen since 1982!

Michael Frayn got the idea for the play when sitting in the wings during a performance of his ‘The Two of Us’, written for Lynn Redgrave: what was happening backstage was much more amusing than the play being acted for the audience!

Noises Off concerns a rather talentless bunch of actors performing a second-rate farce ‘Nothing On’. First, we see the technical rehearsal of Act One, secondly, Act One again, but backstage four weeks into the tour and lastly Act One yet again during the final week of what has been a long, exhausting drag around England.

The play is beautifully constructed by Frayn, who has revised it several times in the last forty years to keep it up to date. As in all farces, everything that happens is totally logical, but taken to the extreme, so that people (mainly Jonathan Coy as Frederick Fellowes, highly prone to nosebleeds) frequently lose their trousers and other items of apparel, and the clever set (Simon Higlett) contains at least seven doors and a staircase, down which you know from the very start that someone is bound to fall! Add in multiple plates of sardines, an extremely long telephone cable, an axe, many bunches of flowers, bottles of whisky, a cactus and a burglar (an hilarious Matthew Kelly – always a pleasure to watch) and you have the ingredients of total mayhem! In addition, unplanned, a door came off its hinges in Act Two!

This play needs, and in this production gets, a true ensemble cast, especially in the various ‘set pieces’. Alexander Hanson is the suave director Lloyd Dallas with oodles of patience (he has to have) who is having an affair with at least one of the cast of ‘Nothing On’. His acting has terrific energy and really drives the play. Tracy-Ann Oberman plays up to the colour of her amazing dress: the brightest of bright pinks! On the other hand, Sasha Frost as Brooke Ashton spends quite a bit of time trying to find hers. She has clearly been given the role because the director fancies her, and not because of her acting ability! Felicity Kendal is Dotty Otley, who plays the role of the housekeeper Mrs Clackett in the play-within-a-play, a very stereotyped role, even for this play, which Kendal enjoys to the full, as does the audience.

The hapless stage carpenter and general understudy is Hubert Burton, Pepter Lunkuse is Poppy, the stage manager nearly always in tears, Joseph Milson playing Garry Lejeune with great skill, making him appear an even worse actor than the rest of the cast! All are superb in role and make a great ensemble. There is no weak link here!

For some reason, there is only one more week planned for this tour at present – next week at Cambridge. This is the sort of play we all need: expertly written, acted and directed and a real tonic: it sends you out into the night still laughing! Very occasionally one sees something that is so good that one wishes one could give it SIX stars – this is that something!!! Remember that Brighton is only an hour from London by train and that ATG’s ticket prices start at £13!

Don’t miss it – just GO!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Theatre Royal Bath Productions present Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy, Matthew Kelly and Tracy-Ann Oberman in the fortieth-anniversary production of one of the greatest British comedies ever written.

Why go and see it?
One of the greatest British comedies ever written.
Hurtling along at breakneck speed, Noises Off follows the on and offstage antics of a touring theatre company as they stumble their way through the fictional farce, Nothing On. From the shambolic final rehearsals before opening night in Weston-Super-Mare, to a disastrous matinee in Ashton-Under-Lyme seen entirely, and hilariously silently, from backstage, before we share their final, brilliantly catastrophic performance in Stockton-on-Tees.

Theatre Royal Brighton
Until Sat 22 Oct 2022

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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1 thought on “Noises Off at Theatre Royal Brighton”

  1. l was also present on Tuesday evening..Unfortunately I cannot agree with the review. the repetition of seeing the same Act 1 three times became tedious.I much admire Felicity Kendall as an actress, but her still youthful appearance regrettably did mot match the part of Dotty, who was supposed to be an aged housekeeper. The regular dropping of trousers by Freddie is so old hat. Yes, funny 40 years ago but surely an up to date version could have replaced this with a fresh approach to Freddie’s misfortunes. Overall a very outdated farce and not a patch on more modern farces such as The Play that Went Wrong.

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