Photo: Nobby Clark

We reviewed a production of Noises Off a few years ago, so we had a fair idea of what to expect, but for the uninitiated, Michael Frayn’s 1982 farce is a wonderfully silly slapstick comedy. A play-within-a-play, we’re introduced to the cast and creative team behind fictional comedy Nothing On, and notionally we watch the same thing – the show’s first act – three times over. Act one offers us a glimpse into the tech run the night before the show opens, while act two gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the play mid-tour followed by a front-of-house view of a disastrous performance towards the tour’s conclusion.

Of course, we’re not simply watching the same content three times in a row – the first act serves to introduce us to the characters, both their stage personas and (during the rehearsal) snippets of their actual thoughts and feelings towards one another, and crucially runs us through what’s supposed to be happening. During the second act we see things go from bad to worse as tempers fray behind-the-scenes during a matinee in Ashton-under-Lyme, and then a catastrophic performance unfold in Stockton-on-Tees.

As a concept it works extremely well, but what really makes this production is how the material is sold by the exceptionally hardworking cast. It’s full of familiar names from stage and screen – Felicity Kendal, Tamzin Outhwaite, Mathew Horne, the list goes on – all delivering energetic and perfectly choreographed performances. For a show like this to succeed it requires expert timing and we’re clearly watching absolute pros here – what we’re witnessing is completely chaotic, yet following exactly what’s happening and knowing exactly where the focus is in each scene feels effortless.

We had a wonderful evening with Noises Off – we’re aware the brand of humour won’t suit every taste (it’s effectively The Play That Goes Wrong, except it’s more like a play-within-a-play going wrong here), so if slapstick silliness isn’t for you then you’re maybe better off looking elsewhere for your theatrical entertainment. We should probably also note that act one, while necessary for setting up all the jokes that are to follow, isn’t all that punchy itself and the play really only feels like it gets going properly in the second half. But within its genre, Noises Off is one of the best, and this talented cast deliver the material brilliantly.

GAY TIMES gives Noises Off – 4/5

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