There have been a few fairly sniffy reviews of Noises Off recently. Both of this touring version of last year’s 40th anniversary production and of the Michael Frayn classic more generally.
The argument seems to go that the 1982 farce is showing its age and the same joke – a play within a play going all wrong – can be seen elsewhere.
It is an interesting quirk of theatrical criticism that comedies are occasionally treated in this way. Dramas, on the other hand, become ‘period pieces’, described as ‘kickstarting a trend’.
What should matter, of course, is whether a play works in its own right. Yes, Noises Off is a product of its time, yes it has been lovingly ripped off in recent years but yes, in the right hands, it is still riotously funny.
The cast on the Lowry Lyric stage have the audience, young and old, totally and utterly enthralled from the very first minute.
Theatre director Lloyd Dallas (Simon Shepherd) is barely holding it together as his hapless cast stumble through the Nothing On dress rehearsal. Or is it the tech? Entrances, exits, props, words, and even objectives, are all proving rather elusive.
That’s just on stage. Off it there are clearly all manner of personal problems: from relationship dramas to losing battles with addiction.
Many people will be fully aware of the Noises Off structure by now. Three acts of increasing chaos as the audience gets a glimpse backstage and then back to the on-set shenanigans while the Nothing On tour descends into, well, farce.
Given the collection of archetypes penned brilliantly by Frayn, the casting of this show is always crucial. Casting director Ginny Schiller has played a blinder. This production is pitch perfect in every role.
Theatre and TV legend Matthew Kelly is the star as hard of hearing lush Selsdon Mowbray. Kelly is having a ball and his affected delivery pays off brilliantly in the third act.
Dan Fredenburgh is outstanding as Garry Lejeune, the leading man who transforms from a bland actor trading in vague nothings to someone dangerously on the edge.
Kudos too to Lisa Ambalavanar whose Brooke Ashton sticks hilariously to the script even if it bears no resemblance to the events unfolding around her.
Much of the set for Noises Off is pretty prescriptive but Simon Higlett has still thrown in some great touches, backstage especially, to create a brilliantly believable world. The revolve between the second and third acts does feel slightly too long.
Lindsay Posner’s direction is unsurprisingly outstanding. It is no mean feat to harness the disarray and interwoven plot lines of the second act and create something watchable and clear. Mission accomplished.
There is also a sense of sadness and despair in this production which, when combined with the topical theme of misuse of power, proves the show still has something to say.
Sometimes reviews can overthink things. Ultimately, Noises Off is just really funny when done well. This is done very well.
Playing until 21st October 2023. Tickets and more information can be found here: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/noises-off/
Reviewer: Peter Ruddick
Reviewed: 17th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: