Noises Off returns to the West End once more at the Theatre Royal Haymarket but loses none of its hilarity
“That’s what it’s all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off.”
If there’s a touch of conversatism in some of the programming in the West End relying on tried and tested productions, then we could be doing a lot worse with some of the choices being made. Opening later this week, the National Theatre’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is capping off a successful tour by popping back to London for a second West End residency, whereas Theatre Royal Haymarket has brought back the 40th anniversary production of Noises Off which played the Phoenix earlier this year after its own UK tour.
The show has been partly recast – Tamzin Outhwaite, Mathew Horne and James Fleet in for Tacy-Ann Oberman, Joseph Millson and Matthew Kelly – but Felicity Kendal’s name still sits proud above everyone else’s on the poster. And joined by fellow lead returnees Alexander Hanson and Jonathan Coy, Lindsay’s Posner production of Michael Frayn’s iconic farce has lost nothing of its raucous energy as we follow a troubled touring theatre company from rehearsal in Weston-Super-Mare to a matinée in Ashton-Under-Lyme to the chaotic final night in Stockton-on-Tees.
Even if familiarity dulls a little of the comic edge from the material (and for me, I have to say it doesn’t), there’s so much pleasure in watching this ensemble work together, none more so than in the incredible near-silent choreography of Act 2 which takes the ingenious step of taking us backstage to watch the play-within-the-play that we saw in the first act from a new perspective. In and of itself, just getting to see something of how theatre is made on a nightly basis is a revelation but combined with the rapidly deteriorating inter-company relationships, it becomes a masterstroke.
It’s a genuine pleasure to see Outhwaite on this stage again (her Sweet Charity here in 2010 was a delight), her Belinda expertly skilled in stroking the outsized creative egos around her to make the show go on. James Fleet does his habitual hangdog schtick and Horne’s Garry brings a more intensely neurotic energy to the part which adds a nice edge. Younger company members Sasha Frost, Pepter Lunkuse and Oscar Batterham add just as much to the mix though, ensuring that we’re feeling for these people just as much as laughing at them. A continued delight.