Review: Noises Off, Richmond Theatre

Lindsay Posner revives Noises Off once again in fine style, as Felicity Kendal, Joseph Millson, Tracy-Ann Oberman and more delight at Richmond Theatre

“How about the words, dear, am I getting some of them right?”

As far as farce is concerned (and particularly for a farce-sceptic like me), Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is the gold standard of the genre. London has been blessed with a couple of productions over the last decade – the Old Vic’s which transferred into the West End in 2011-12 and the Lyric Hammersmith’s which made the same journey in 2019. And as the show marks its 40th anniversary, it has been revived once again as Lindsay Posner’s production takes a short tour across the south of England.

It’s all in the construction. Frayn’s raucous comedy adopts a three act structure as it gives us a play-within-a-play, following the travails of a touring theatre company putting on the (fictional) farce Nothing On. From final rehearsal to a troubled matinée to the mayhem-filled last night, we see the play three times, the technically organised chaos onstage reflected and increasingly undermined by the shenanigans going on offstage. The genius is in the second act though, as Simon Higlett’s set is revolved and we witness events from backstage.

Ginny Schiller’s casting gets it absolutely right. Tracy-Ann Oberman’s wafting in fuschia fabric and rictus grin ensuring the show always goes on; Jonathan Coy’s beta male whose delicate soul is almost too precious for this world; Matthew Kelly’s whisky-soaked surprise appearances; Felicity Kendal giving her best Mrs Overall, it is just constantly delightful. Alexander Hanson’s long-suffering director is particularly good as he barks at his cast from the stalls and Joseph Millson’s swaggering egotist pratfalls magnificently and borrows the Tory power stance most amusingly.

The younger hands in the production – Sasha Frost, Pepter Lunkuse and Hubert Burton – all do really well in blending with all that experience, creating a deeply humane portrayal of a group of people collectively on the edge. It is always funny, hilarious at times, but there’s also depth in character here that means you care for them, hapless as so many of them are. The only downside would be the length of the second interval which really feels it ought to be more of a pause in order to carry its madcap energy through to the end. Still, looking mighty fine for 40.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Photos: Nobby Clark
Noises Off is booking at Richmond Theatre until 15th October, then plays Theatre Royal Brighton 18th – 22nd October and Cambridge Arts Theatre 25th-29th October

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