Michael Frayn’s 1982 comedy Noises Off has had a successful lifespan of different productions over the years. This current production, directed by Lindsay Posner, was first presented at Theatre Royal Bath in September 2022. It then had a run at the Phoenix Theatre at the beginning of 2023 and has now returned to Theatre Royal Haymarket with a new cast. The play consists of three acts where we see the show within the show Nothing On, at three different stages of its run; as the cast and crew are desperately trying to make it to the end of their tour, the chaos on-stage and off-stage builds. 

Credit: Nobby Clark

The three acts of the play are clearly defined. In the first act we see LLoyd (Alexander Hanson) struggle to get his cast of actors through the first act of the show, without them forgetting lines and blocking in the early hours of the morning before their opening night. In Act II we switch to a backstage set, which looks great, and we are one month into their run. We get this choreographed chaos sequence that is delivered with precision and has a lovely balance of slapstick and natural comedy which I found significantly more entertaining than the first act. In the third act the cast of Nothing On are on their last show of the tour and everything is completely falling apart; Dotty (Felicity Kendal), is exhausted, injured and is replacing half her lines with ‘sardines’, as where to place the plate of sardines in the show has been a constant stress for her. Kendall’s performance is particularly entertaining throughout. 

Credit: Nobby Clark

Slapstick, repetition and running gags summarises the humour of this show, naturally capturing the essence of the comedy of its time. Everything is very on the nose and the majority of the jokes set up the audience to laugh on cue, which tends to become a bit tedious. There were jokes that definitely did tickle me; I particularly enjoyed all the self-aware jokes about producing a play, such as the actors agreeing that the blocking of their show doesn’t make sense, or Lloyd juggling his affairs with multiple members of the cast. I also enjoyed the running gag of Brooke (Sasha Frost) losing her contacts and Selsdon’s (James Fleet) increasing alcohol dependency. 

The play feels catered towards an older, middle class palate. And whilst this production has cast two people of colour, I believe that this is the first production of the show to have non-white actors, and the overall tone of the show still feels very ‘white middle class’, which was one of the many contributing factors to me questioning ‘Is this show really needed in 2023?’ Additionally, the plot of Nothing On contains a running gag where two of the characters end up with bed sheets covering their bodies and they’re mistaken for being an Arab couple. Whilst this is in the show within the show, it sits uncomfortably, and given the fact there has been edits made to the text over the years it’s a shame that there’s still this distasteful gag. 

Posner’s direction elevates the visual comedy and overall feel of the piece and Higlett’s set design is visually pleasing especially paired with the gorgeous auditorium of the Royal Haymarket. 

CreditL Nobby Clark

Noises Off is a great example of an 80’s comedy. It has an entertaining structure and premise, it just feels dated. It would be interesting to see a fully revamped modern interpretation.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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