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Review of Noises Off at Mercury Theatre Colchester

Noises Off“It’s about doors and sardines”. This is the tantalising description of ‘Nothing On’, a farce starring national treasure Dotty Ottley, setting out on its provincial tour at the Grand Theatre, Weston-Super-Mare. At least it would be, if it were not for the fact that ‘Nothing On’ is the setting for Michael Frayn’s hilarious farce ‘Noises Off’.

In this riotous production, the audience sees the opening act of ‘Nothing On’ three times, firstly at the dress rehearsal, where onstage problems are unresolved, and cracks appear in the relationships within the company. The second act, making skilful use of the Mercury’s revolve, takes place backstage during a performance which shows how the cracks in the show, both on- and off-stage, have widened. Finally, the set returns to its original position at a performance late in the run, during which it is clear that all discipline and harmony have finally broken down.

It is vital that the fictional farce stands up in its own right, and ‘Nothing On’ does just that. It has the usual ingredients – mistaken identities, doors, misbehaving props, dropped trousers and a pretty girl in her underwear. Even the ‘Nothing On’ programme within the real one is a hoot, with a preposterous scholarly essay on the nature of farce and the biogs of the fictional actors.

The performances of the real cast were miraculous, given that they were playing actors who were less than perfect, having to deal with the technical imperfections of the farce, complicated romantic entanglements and the vexed problem of keeping the old soak Selsdon Mowbray and the bottle as far apart as possible. As Mowbray, Peter Ellis was superb, playing the minor role of a burglar as if he were declaiming King Lear. Louis Tamone and Sarah Jayne Dunn as the fictional love interest were no less impressive, both becoming dumb and dumber when out of character. Tamone, as matinee idol Gary Lejeune, showed enormous athleticism, not only in role, but hopping around the set with his shoelaces tied together and in a spectacular tumble down the stairs in the final act.

There is usually an actor who has problems understanding his motivation and Frederick Fellowes, played by David Shelley, has those, with the complication of a tendency to nosebleeds. I enjoyed his cleverly bemused performance, as I did Sara Crowe’s portrayal of Belinda Blair. A farce needs one character rooted in reality, and Sara Crowe did a masterful job trying to keep the various warring factions from each other’s throats.

Trying to keep order with such a rabble is difficult, and, as the inexperienced SMs, Dan Cohen and Louise Kempton perfectly portrayed souls out of their depth, faced with romantic betrayal and the ever-present threat of having to ‘go on’.

Failing to keep order, and his own patience, is director Lloyd Dallas, played with growing desperation by Hywel Simons, neatly showing that the whole enterprise is beneath him. Louise Jameson was simply wonderful as Dotty Ottley, the audience’s darling but a diva behind the scenes, and becoming ever more impatient with the problems posed by the ubiquitous plates of sardines.

The physicality and pace were excellent, especially in the second act, when the cast, largely in dumb show, moved in and out of the set with split-second timing.
5 Star Rating

Review by David Tickner

By Michael Frayn
Director Daniel Buckroyd
Designer Dawn Allsopp
Lighting Designer Mark Dymock

Friday May 1 to to Saturday, May 16
Press night: Tuesday May 5 – 7.30pm

Hailed as one of the greatest British comedies ever written, Michael Frayn’s hilarious Noises Off will be causing chaos at the Mercury Theatre this May as the second Made in Colchester production of the 2015 season.

A play within a play, this rip-roaring farce lifts the curtain on the ups and downs on-stage and behind-the-scenes as bungled romances collide with wayward sardines, forgotten lines and just a few precious egos!
A shambolic dress rehearsal limps to a frantic opening night in Weston-Super-Mare and then it’s downhill all the way to the Municipal Theatre in Stockton-On-Tees. Can director Lloyd hold the show together? (No) Will Selsdon stay sober long enough to make his entry on time? (No) Does Dotty know whether she is coming or going? (Absolutely not) However, the show must go on!

An ensemble piece, directed by Mercury Theatre Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd, Noises Off will star an array of talent.

Listings information
The Mercury Theatre, Balkerne Gate Colchester Essex CO1 1PT
Fri 1 – Sat 16 May
Performance Times Vary
Tickets from £10 to £25 & Discounts
Contains some strong language
Recommended for 12+yrs
Running time approx. 2hr 30min, including interval

Thursday 7th May 2015


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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