REVIEW: Feel the farce in Noises Off!

Noises Off!, presented by HADIT
Noises Off!, presented by HADIT

Hope’s drama group tackles Michael Frayn’s brilliant play which takes us behind the scenes of a touring theatre company’s production.

The behaviour of the cast proves even more farcical than the comedy they are trying to perform.

The trajectory of Noises Off! can only be described as a crescendo of chaos.

After their success with Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval about a shambolic am dram group, HADIT (Hope Amateur Independent Theatre) turns its hand to Noises Off!, a farce about a repertory company which takes ineptitude to the next level. The oft-quoted advice on the art of acting is ‘Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.’ In each play the characters fail on both counts; there is far more action off-stage than on, with complicated love triangles leading to punch-ups.

Noises Off! contains a play within a play: an excruciatingly bad bedroom farce, Nothing On. The first act shows us a technical rehearsal of the opening act. Act 2 focuses on the same act at a matinee performance from backstage. Act 3 occurs near the end of the run where everything unravels at an alarming rate. It is all a recipe for unadulterated hilarity and HADIT actors have never been shy about milking the laughs.

The HADIT company is also not shy about taking on a challenge. In Noises Off! the set needs to turn around twice to capture the shenanigans both on and back stage. Multiple doors are required for the quickfire entrances and exits, which are a staple of farce. Congratulations to Alan Bailey, set designer from Bishopston Amateur Theatrical Society (BATS), who advised the HADIT team. A huge pat on the back to construction team David Garwes and Graham Sedgewick for the impressive set.

Frayn’s play also makes demands on its actors, who essentially play two roles: their own character and that character’s part in Nothing On. Valda Dagnall shines as ageing actor Dotty Otley, who has invested her life savings in this turkey of a play. Valda brought out the contrast between her role as housekeeper Mrs Clackett and her ‘luvvie’ persona. By the end of the play Dotty has lost the plot in more ways than one. Gary, her younger lover, is played by Paul Archer. In a high-energy performance, he portrays a man driven so mad by jealousy that he ends up banging his head on the set and attacking another member of the cast with a fire axe.

Tim Smallwood creates much humour as Frederick Fellowes, a nervous type, who holds up rehearsals fretting about his motivation. Sheree Smallwood as Belinda Blair, a beacon of sanity in a maelstrom of mayhem, was a good foil. Every farce needs a scantily clad young woman: enter Jo Elliott. With her high-pitched mockney voice and ditsy demeanour, she carries the role off with aplomb. Nick Williams relishes his part as Selsdon Mowbray, a Shakespearean actor relegated to playing a burglar.

The production team of Nothing On certainly have their work cut out. As the exasperated director and part-time lothario Lloyd, Jim Driver gives an assured performance with excellent comic timing. The role of Poppy (assistant stage manager) is well-acted by Jenni Argent. Never have I seen a facial expression convey ‘fraught’ so perfectly. Danny Washington (stage manager) catches an air of haplessness well.

Farce demands slickness and a quick tempo. Parts of Act 1 were a little hesitant in pace, but this was, after all, the first night. Act 2 was brilliant and the laughs came thick and fast. As Nothing On is acted down stage, the backstage action is at the front – like a slapstick dumb show. (Excellent staging from director Carolyn Garwes.) At one point, most of the cast was out of control whilst clutching a cactus. I shall not forget the vision of solicitous Dotty plucking prickles from Lloyd’s posterior…

Well done to HADIT for taking on such an ambitious project. May the farce go with them!

The production runs until Saturday, April 29. Tickets are still available for Saturday night’s performance.