Wyong Drama Group has made a triumphant debut at The Art House with its production of a perennial favourite: the riotously funny and clever comedy, Noises Off, by multi-award winning British playwright and novelist Michael Frayn. For lovers of live theatre, this affectionate send up based on the misadventures of a British touring company is a play not to be missed. Premiering at the Lyric Theatre in London, where it ran for five years, it opened on Broadway the next year to rave reviews, one critic declaring it to be “the funniest play written in my lifetime”. It enjoyed successful revivals in 2001 and 2015 and culled multiple Tony Award nominations on each occasion. It also earned the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy for its author in 1982. Said to have been inspired by a performance of a farce the author witnessed from behind the scenes, Frayn claimed “it was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”* The resulting play was Noises Off, which certainly demonstrates the point.
Otstar Productions are about to open at the Grand Theatre, Weston-super-Mare, with their production of “Nothing On”, and the dress rehearsal is not going well. With mere hours to go before curtain up, we observe as the cast stumble through the all-too familiar formula of a third-rate farce. Lines are dropped, props are mislaid, and actors struggle to find their motivation; the director’s nerves are frayed and the stage manager hasn’t slept for days; at least the cast are in good spirits, but can their morale survive the challenges of clandestine romances, speech impediments, the drinking problems of aging thespians, and spontaneous nervous nosebleeds? The first act of “Noises Off” cleverly sets up the action for the following acts where we see variations of the same scene, first from backstage mid-run, then in performance toward the end of the tour where we witness the hilariously disastrous consequences that ensue from Lloyd’s dalliances, Garry’s jealousy, and everyone’s attempts to keep Selwyn away from the bottle.
The play employs a wide range of comedic devices that include mime, slapstick and other physical comedy, along with very funny but fiendishly difficult dialogue, all of which makes Noises Off a huge technical challenge for any company that has the kahones to take it on.
Wyong Drama Group has risen to the challenge admirably, fielding a cast of its most experienced, well-loved and – not to mention – award winning actors. Veterans Ruth Jordan, Howard Oxley, Marc Calwell, Laszlo Weidlich and Duncan Mitchell are supported by talented regulars Maddy Parker and Steve MacDonald, Coast favourite Sierra Phillips and one relative newcomer, Alexander Travers, who manages to endear herself to the audience long before she has even spoken her first line! All the cast show superb comic timing and revel in the humorous possibilities created as they move deftly between their characters and their characters’ characters.
Director Pam Campbell, well known for her phenomenal success with WDG’s Fawlty Towers productions, brings all her expertise from staging those equally difficult plays. Technical director, Brendon Flynn and his team are to be congratulated as FX are a vital component of this play, engaging audience imagination with humour derived from incidents that are implied but unseen. In general, the company makes the best use of the new theatre’s facilities with an impressive set designed by Daryl Kirkness and built by a dedicated construction team led by Ian Abbott and Ron Baker.
A final additional level of entertainment is provided, courtesy of the author: I urge theatregoers to take the time to read the programme within the programme from the play within the play. It really is a hoot!
The show continues this weekend but tickets are selling fast, so book early to avoid disappointment. Call 4335 1485 or book online at http://www.thearthousewyong.com.au
Wyong Drama Group’s next show at The Art House, to be staged in March 2017, is another comedy, adapted for stage from the highly popular television show: The Vicar of Dibley. For more information, watch the group’s website at http://www.wyongdramagroup.com.au/
*Mehlman, Barbara K. “A CurtainUp Review”. CurtainUp. Retrieved 18 September 2013. Quoted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noises_Off#cite_note-1
Images courtesy of WDG publicity.