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Noises Off, The Old Vic

Michael Frayn
Directed by Lindsay Posner

Pros: Frayn’s superb script, the ridiculous achievement that is Act 2, Robert Glenister’s wonderful portrayal of Lloyd Dallas.

Cons: Hardly any, slight issues with the deliberate bad acting in Act 1.

Our Verdict: Probably the best farce ever written, an absolute must for all theatre fans.

Courtesy of Alistair Muir for The Daily Mail

Many of my deeply unfortunate friends (of which there are very few as it is…) have recently had to hear me wittering on at every possible opportunity about the fact that Noises Off is on at The Old Vic. You see, I have a history when it comes to this Michael Frayn classic: back in 2005 it became the first production that I directed, marking the start of my full-time interest in theatre (I won’t say much else about it, but the words ‘startlingly good’ were used to describe it). I mention this for two reasons: firstly, to irritate my co-bloggers, and secondly… well, there is no secondly. 

So what of this Old Vic revival? Its reputation precedes it, with most major reviewers using expressions like ‘comic masterpiece’ in their write-ups. To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to describe Frayn’s outrageously clever script. This modern-day classic farce follows the antics of a struggling theatre company on tour as their production descends into chaos. Personal feuds and agendas (and a rogue bottle of whiskey) wreak havoc as they desperately try and fail to keep their show together. The result is over two hours of comic bliss as Frayn effortlessly blends linguistic and physical humour into one exhausting play. 
Such a deeply challenging script almost requires a choreographer rather than a director, and Lindsay Posner is more than up to the challenge. The blocking is close to perfect, and the subtleties of Frayn’s linguistic wit are clearly highlighted by a stellar cast. It is a true ensemble performance, but for me Robert Glenister as the cynical and sarcastic director Lloyld Dallas stood out. Glenister perfectly captures the essence of a man on the edge, plagued by personal and professional problems and desperately trying to hold everything together. That being said, Karl Johnson’s portrayal of the senile Selsdon Mowbray is close to being perfect, and Celia Imrie as the bewildered Dotty Otley is also excellent. 
Act 2 is perhaps one of the greatest achievements in the history of farce as the set rotates to show the goings-on backstage during a performance of Nothing On (the play-within-the-play). In places, the action is so fast and furious that you don’t know where to look, and the person sitting next to me seemed to be so overwhelmed that they just sat there wide-eyed, with almost a look of fear in their eyes! Axes get wielded, shoes get tied together and a single bottle of whiskey seems to turn up all over the place. By the end, the cast are dripping with sweat and gasping for breath, and to be honest the audience are in a similar state. 
It’s hard to find any weaknesses, but if I had to mention one tiny thing it would be that in parts of Act 1, the ‘acting’ in the play-within-the-play felt slightly forced. This was clearly a deliberate decision to show that on top of all their other problems the cast of the struggling company can’t act either. Although this has definite comic potential, in places I confused it with actual bad acting, which I feel lost a few potential laughs along the way. But this really is me searching for problems. 
Although we’ve held off from giving this the elusive five stars, Noises Off is an absolute must see for all theatre fans. It is, in my humble opinion, the greatest farce ever written. I don’t want to take anything away from the cast, who are marvellously good as I have said, but the real joy is Frayn’s script, which truly is a comic masterpiece. Cancel your plans, pay full price if necessary, but for goodness sake don’t miss it!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Noises Off runs at The Old Vic until 10th March 2012.

Box Office: 0844 8717628 or book online at http://www.oldvictheatre.com/noises-off/

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