“That’s what it’s all about: doors and sardines!” This line, uttered by director Lloyd Dallas (Roger B. Stone) would be a decent descriptor of The British Player’s production of “Noises Off,” except it leaves out one big thing- an enormous abundance of laughs.
“Noises Off” was written in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn; he got the idea after watching another farce of his from the wings one night, and remarking that the events happening offstage were funnier than those onstage. For those unfamiliar with this play, it focuses on a repertory theatre company’s touring production of the fictitious farce “Nothing On.” “Noises Off” is presented in three acts: the first takes place the night before their opening show, the second is about a month later, and the third nearly two months after that. One of the things that makes this show so unique is that while Act I and III have the traditional set of a play, Act II shows the backstage area of the set for a unique and ultimately hilarious perspective on the other side of theatre that most audiences never get to see.
I recommend checking out this production, as it will more than fill your laugh quota for the week.
The company is made up of a powder-keg of personalities, made even more unstable by the romantic liaisons going on between them. Top-billed is Dotty ( Liz Weber), a middle-aged television star who has also put up her own money to help finance the show, her boyfriend Gary (Preston Meche II), the much younger leading man who has trouble finishing his own sentences, and ditzy Brooke (Jayde Mora), who is forever losing her contact lens and having an affair with the exasperated director Lloyd (Stone.) Unfortunately, Lloyd is also involved with overworked Assistant Stage Manager Poppy (Brie Paris.) Things between Dotty and Gary become more tenuous when Gary perceives that the sweet but slightly dim Freddie (Eric Jones) is after his woman, even though cast gossip Belinda (Heather Benjamin) seems to be very interested in Freddie’s happiness. Tim (Peter Moses), the bewildered Stage Manager, gets pulled into all of this backstage drama while the entire cast tries to keep an eye on hearing-impaired alcoholic Selsdon (James Hild.)
This show has been a darling of professional and community theaters alike and was even adapted into a film in 1992. Directed by Marty Kaplan, the film starred some of the most recognizable stars of the day including Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Michael Caine, and the indomitable Carol Burnett. The play has received multiple award nominations, including multiple from the Tonys and Drama Desk awards.
The British Players are always a source of fantastic theatre from across the pond, and their riotous production of “Noises Off” is no exception. This reviewer laughed so much, especially during Act II, that I struggled to catch my breath! This farce can be incredibly challenging to execute, since the lines, entrances, and exits are lightning fast, and it can be incredibly difficult to mess things up on cue. Happily, this immensely talented cast is more than up to the challenge. This show is great fun to watch, especially for those who have done theatre before and can fully understand the shenanigans that go on backstage.
Weber plays Dotty with a wry air, and her sassy nature comes through well when her relationship with Gary hits the skids. Her struggle in Act I with trying to figure out when to take and leave a plate of sardines sets the comedic tone for the rest of the show. Stone is very effective as a serious director on the fringes of success who is slowly driven mad by this show and cast. His presence in the audience calling out notes makes us feel even more a part of the action. Mora and Moses both give fantastic physical comedic performances, and Benjamin and Paris both serve up laughs in their roles. Hild is hysterical as the troubled Selsdon, with his poor hearing and drinking setting up more than one funny moment within the show.
Finally, the two standouts for this reviewer were Meche and Jones. Meche’s comic timing and physicality are perfect for this role and he shines as the neurotic Gary. He brings to mind the iconic character actor Denis O’Hare, in that even when his character is being irritating, he has a charisma that draws the audience’s goodwill. His distraught actions during Act II are some of the funniest of the entire production. Jones successfully navigates two very distinctive accents and infuses enough bumbling charm into this role that even Hugh Grant would be impressed. His pratfalls were perfectly done, and his dramatic responses to the frequent violence of his coworkers are truly hysterical.
Director Robert Leembruggen should be commended for helming an immensely cohesive and comedic production. His deliberate hand can be felt in how smoothly the production flows. Stage Manager Lee Zahnow also helped this process, including managing an intensive stage transformation and back again during the show’s two intermissions. Speaking of the set, it is massive and incredibly unique, in that it has to show not only the set for “Nothing On,” but the backstage area as well.
I was incredibly impressed by Mike Lewis’s set design and Albert Coia’s artistry. Costume and hair designer Harlene Leahy demonstrated Leembruggen’s decision to keep this production set in its original time frame of the 1980s, by creating fantastic 80’s looks for both the “play within a play” as well as the non-actor characters. Matt Mills also helps accentuate this with his sound design by playing 80’s hits while the audience entered the theater and during intermission.
Overall, this show made for an incredibly enjoyable evening of theatre. In our world today, we need a laugh more than ever. I recommend checking out this production, as it will more than fill your laugh quota for the week.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with two 15 minute intermissions.
Advisory: Adult language and partial nudity. Recommended for audiences 16 and over.
“Noises Off” runs through March 30, 2019. For more information on tickets, please visit the British Players’ website here.