It’s been a decade since Michael Frayn’s farce within a farce has graced the Norwich Theatre Royal stage and it’s a long overdue revival.
The comic play remains as devastatingly funny as ever, as we watch a touring theatre company, rehearse, perform, and implode under the weight of their personal rivalries.
The cast within a cast, however, are far from slacking. With established players like Matthew Kelly, Liza Goddard, Simon Shepherd and Lucy Robinson this is a tight and talented bunch.
While the first act’s setup is a little slow in places, resting mostly on theatrical in-jokes rather than physical comedy, there is a good smattering of laughs and it sets up the manic action of the section half. With the structure of the play established from the audience perspective, it is all the more rewarding to see it falling apart as we switch backstage after the interval, for a predominantly mute performance.
The perspective is again reversed for the third act, with the fictional company limping towards the end of the tour, with multi-mishaps and improvised scenes compounding to make reaching the final line all the more unlikely – while the real-life performers are firing on all guns, even if a couple of lines are stepped on. (Poppy’s pregnancy revelation was rather lost in the melee for example, with the most of the “director’s” love triangle dilemmas a little underplayed.)
The play needs exceptional timing and a strong creative team, and Ruth Cooper-Brown and Claire Llewellyn’s work on movement and fight and Lindsay Posner’s direction pays off with some immaculately choreographed sequences that pile laugh on laugh.
There is some nice attention to detail here with even the pretend programme an enjoyable parody, riffing on the occasional pretension of theatre types.
This is an immensely enjoyable production – and proof that good comedy is timeless.
- Noises Off continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 11 November 2023.